UK businesses boosted their digital investment by an average of £1.48 million in 2020 in a bid to rapidly adjust to the demands of the coronavirus pandemic. Yet despite soaring technology budgets, research suggests that workers still have not been trained to use new tools properly – and employees are finding themselves on the firing line.

According to a report from UK tech recruitment firm CWJobs, 73% of UK businesses increased investment in digital tools, training and talent in 2020. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of companies increased their spending on technology hiring in 2020, while two-thirds (67%) increased their tech training budget, with hiring and training budgets growing by nearly £400,000 overall.

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Yet the survey, which was based on the responses of 1,005 tech workers and 504 IT decision makers, found that training is still lacking. Only a quarter of IT decision makers (27%) surveyed by CWJobs reported being satisfied with their employees’ abilities to use these new technologies properly.

This is perhaps not surprising when you consider that fewer than one in 10 (9%) of companies surveyed by CWJobs said they had trained all necessary staff in the tech tools they invested in during 2020. The biggest gaps were in analytics tools, where less than 4% of companies had trained necessary staff, followed by software platforms (8%) and cloud (8%).

Dominic Harvey, director at CWJobs, said the data indicated that businesses’ tech investments were failing to deliver: “Technology is only ever as effective as the employees that use it, and whilst it’s encouraging that training budgets are surging, our findings show that these budgets aren’t being spent effectively.”

This lack of training eventually affects employees, whose improper use of the technology at their disposal is landing them in hot water.

According to a separate report by software company Veritas, 30% of workers have been reprimanded by their employer for using workplace collaboration tools like Slack, Zoom and Teams in a way that jeopardises company security.

In a poll of 12,500 workers, 71% admitted to sharing business-critical data, while 75% admitted sharing sensitive personal information via workplace software tools.

Veritas found that this included client details (16%), business plans (12%) and corporate passwords (7%), as well company credit card details (7%) medical information (13%) bank details (9%) and even their bank card PIN (6%).

UK employers were slightly more conscious of the data they were sharing compared to the rest of the world: 51% of workers admitted to sharing business-critical data via platforms like Zoom and Teams, with 22.9% being called out by their bosses for it. Even so, Veritas noted that there was plenty of room for improvement, particularly with phishing scams and other forms of cybersecurity attacks at an all-time high.

Ian Wood, senior director, head of technology UK&I at Veritas Technologies, said the results indicated that businesses were still struggling to implement good data hygiene practices. That often starts with employees, he added.

“Staff need to be clear on the type of data they can share, how to share it, and what best practice looks like,” Wood told TechRepublic. “Legally, data compliance is the responsibility of everyone in an organization and training should reflect this.

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Despite the obvious risks involved with sharing sensitive information and the consequences involved for employees, attitudes among workers appear largely unchanged: 79% of employees surveyed by Veritas said they would share sensitive business information again via the same methods in future.

The results highlighted the need for a more concerted effort to address the problem, with Wood noting that simply telling staff not to do something – without giving them a viable solution – simply led to patterns repeating themselves. “If companies deploy new processes, policies, and training, more employees will understand the role they play in protecting their organization’s data,” he said.

“This said, our research also shows that training people not to do something, without giving them a good alternative, hasn’t been effective…Businesses need a clear strategy about how they want to do business; this must have senior executive sponsorship to win through from a cultural perspective, and then they can deploy the tools that will empower employees to follow that strategy.”

Engagement with remote training an issue

CWJobs’ data suggested that employers struggled to engage staff when it came to training, particularly while they were working from home.

According to its survey, a quarter (25%) of IT decision makers cited hesitance among workers and managers to make time for training, while a third (33%) said they struggled to deliver training sessions while working remotely. A similar proportion (31%) said they struggled to keep employees engaged with training.

As a result, over three in five businesses (63%) said they would be reviewing their tech training strategy in 2021. “It is imperative that employers find creative ways to navigate the challenges of remote training and engage their workers to avoid their investments going to waste, as well as close the tech talent gap,” Harvey said. “A fully trained, empowered workforce will ensure these digital investments deliver great results for years to come.”

Brexit adds another dimension to the tech skills gap in the UK. Nearly three in five organizations (57%) said that withdrawing from the EU would make it more difficult for the UK to attract highly skilled workers from the continent, with a similar percentage feeling pressure to hire tech talent due to the pandemic.

James Frost, CMO at tech training provider QA, said businesses needed to find new ways of building the skills they needed in-house.

“Whether it’s through reskilling the existing workforce, or introducing apprenticeship programmes into the talent strategy, HR teams must work with the wider business to find more creative ways of delivering the skills organizations require to emerge stronger from the pandemic,” said Frost.

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