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Digital skills are life skills

Written by Rachel Neaman, Digital Leaders Advisory Board Member, Consultant and formerly Doteveryone / Go ON UK

It’s 2017 and everyone is online, using apps to manage their money, do their shopping, arrange their social life, make travel arrangements, and keep up-to-date with the latest news, sport and entertainment. Allegedly we’re so addicted to digital media that we’re even prepared to pay detox specialist to take our electronic devices away from us.

Or so we might assume. But this is not the reality for 23% of UK adults, 38% of SMEs and 49% of charities, who all lack even a basic level of digital skills. So I was delighted to see this reality acknowledged in the Government’s UK Digital Strategy, launched today by the Right Hon. Karen Bradley MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. In her speech this morning she said:

“The UK must lead the world. Meanwhile, none of our citizens should be left behind. This strategy will ensure that the benefits of digital are spread throughout the country; that we have the necessary infrastructure; that regulations are agile and benign; and that everyone has the skills they need to be citizens in the digital age and workers in the digital economy.”

To date, much of the digital skills debate has been around the lack of specialist technology skills holding back industry and our digital economy. This, of course, remains a very real issue that organisations like the Tech Partnership are working hard to solve. But as digital becomes the default medium for public services as well as leisure, travel, retail and myriad other industries, we cannot ignore the 12.6 million people that lack even the basic digital skills to access these services.

One of the seven strands of the Strategy is digital skills and inclusion and there is much to celebrate there. It focuses on:

  1. ensuring that we continue to tackle the root causes of digital exclusion and that everyone can increase their digital capability to make the most of the digital world
  2. developing the full range of digital skills that individuals and companies across the country need in an increasingly digital economy, and supporting people to up-skill and re-skill throughout their working lives.
  3. strong collaboration between the public, private and third sector to tackle the digital skills gap in a co-ordinated and coherent way, so the sum is greater than the parts and everyone everywhere has better access to the training they want

It is essential that we approach digital skills as a life skill, not as a nice-to-have, and put them on a par with basic literacy and numeracy. The pledge to provide free basic digital skills training to those who need it is particularly welcome, although this will need to be delivered in ways that mirror the individual needs of the recipients rather than solely as a formal qualification which may or may not be appropriate to a learner’s circumstances. The list of companies providing digital skills training from the very basic to more technical – including Lloyds Bank, Google, BT, HP, Barclays, Cisco and many others – demonstrates the tremendous appetite across the private sector to tackle the skills gap and support more people to get digital. If all these initiatives can be harnessed and coordinated to become more than the sum of the parts, as the Strategy states, this will be a great breakthrough and will have tremendous impact.

As ever, the proof of the pudding is in the implementation. But there is already a real coalition of the willing prepared to create a “world-leading digital economy that works for everyone”. I welcome the focus on collaboration, coordination and a targeted approach to digital skills training and look forward to working with Government and partners to deliver this vision.

This guest post first appeared here on the Tech Partnership blog and was reposted with the author’s permission.

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