Digital government report

ICT skills gap evident in Northern Ireland

Almost one in five people in Northern Ireland have no digital skills, according to figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).

Published in November 2023, the Digital Skills in Northern Ireland report states that 18 per cent of the population have no digital skills, with NISRA’s metric being that they have not having accessed or performed any of its listed online functions.

The listed online functions are:

  1. use of online services;
  2. finding information online;
  3. communicating online; and
  4. using the internet safely and securely.

Although there is undoubtedly a skills gap to be overcome in ICT, decision-makers can take solace in that the largest proportion of respondents were at the other end of the scale with an above basic level of digital skills (44 per cent).

This meant they had used the internet for more than one online service, found different types of information online, communicated online in more than one way, and were aware of multiple internet safety features.

Similarly, almost two out of five respondents had a basic level of digital skills (38 per cent), meaning they had accessed the internet for at least one function. However, respondents for this category did not use a range of functions across all four aspects of digital use.

Dividing factors

There were large differences in digital skill levels between those aged under 50 and those aged 50 and over. Almost half (47 per cent) of those aged 65 and over had no digital skills, compared to less than one in 10 people aged 16 to 49. Given that economic experts have warned that there will be a need for an older workforce as Northern Ireland’s average age continues to increase, ensuring that older workers are equipped with digital skills will be a major challenge for decision-makers.

The largest proportion of those aged 50 and over had basic digital skills (44 per cent) while for those under 50, the majority of respondents had above basic digital skills (59 per cent).

A further challenge exists in the form of a disparity between the ICT skillset of those living in economically prosperous areas of Northern Ireland and those living in economically deprived areas. Differences in digital skill levels were evident between those who were in the least deprived areas and those in the most deprived areas.

A higher proportion of those in the most deprived areas had no digital skills (25 per cent) compared to those in the least deprived (11 per cent). The largest difference (24 per cent) was recorded between those with above basic skills. The most deprived areas in Northern Ireland had lower levels of above basic digital skills (34 per cent) than the least deprived areas (58 per cent).

This deprivation gap is broadly mirrored in a qualification gap. Over half (55 per cent) of respondents with no qualifications reported having no digital skills. This is almost 10 times greater than the proportion of people who have at least a degree level qualification and no digital skills (5.9 per cent).

The proportion of those with no qualifications and no digital skills varied with age; 20 per cent of those under 50 had no qualifications and no digital skills compared to 64 per cent of those aged 50 and over.

Those whose highest qualification was degree level or above reported the highest proportion of above basic digital skills (64 per cent), which is in contrast to the 6 per cent of people with no qualifications.

Similar proportions of males and females had an above basic level of digital skills (44 per cent and 43 per cent respectively). A higher proportion of females reported having no digital skills (21 per cent), and a lower proportion reported having basic digital skills (36 per cent) when compared to males (15 per cent and 40 per cent respectively).

Broad analysis

NISRA states that 81.3 per cent of people aged 16 and above have at least basic ICT skills, which places Northern Ireland above the rate in the Republic of Ireland (70 per cent) and the EU average of 54 per cent.

However, Northern Ireland’s average age (38.9) is higher in Northern Ireland than in the Republic of Ireland, which has an average age of 37.3. In addition, Northern Ireland’s productivity rate is 11 per cent lower than the UK average and 8 per cent lower than that of the Republic of Ireland. Therefore, this disparity is necessary if Northern Ireland is to remain economically competitive.

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