MANY small and medium companies are worried about a potential digital skills shortage which would make it more difficult for them to compete over the next few years.

According to a leading business finance group more than a third of SMEs in Yorkshire believe that they will need enhanced or increased digital capabilities in the next three years to help them cope with an ever-changing business landscape.

Of these, 78 per cent of companies are worried about how they will upgrade their skills base , with many firms citing difficulties finding suitably skilled staff. The level of investment required is also seen as a potential stumbling block.

Lee Hayes, regional sales director for Close Brothers Invoice Finance, said: “Our findings suggest that many local SMEs do not feel adequately equipped for the future and that many are concerned that finding staff with the appropriate skills will be a challenge.”

The figures come from the latest Close Brothers Business Barometer, a quarterly survey that canvasses the opinion of SME owners and managers on a range of business issues.

Mr Hayes added : “A recent paper published by 02, The Future Digital Skills Needs of the UK Economy, estimates that there is a requirement for almost three quarters of a million additional workers with digital skills to meet the rising demand from employers and fuel the UK economy during the next three years.

“With this in mind, we need to explore how Yorkshire and Humberside companies can be prepared to compete in a digital global economy. Perhaps it is becoming necessary for businesses to look towards the younger generation to help address the growing skills gap.”

The survey also found that, of the Yorkshire firms that do not believe they will have any requirement for increased digital ability, a quarter do not consider digital skills as relevant to their business. “SMEs across the board should consider the importance of digital skills in their workforce and the value these skills can bring.

"With £107 billion forecast to be spent online in 2014, it is vital that businesses are equipped for e-commerce and have the skills required to engage customers via their website or social media sites. It is clear that additional industry support is needed to deliver digital skills education in schools and also help young people into digital roles by offering more practical work experience.

“By working hand-in-hand with the Government, firms in the region can help to tackle this issue and ensure that we have the skills required to compete on a global level,” added Mr Hayes.