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Digital sector must overcome its “image problem” to attract more people to learn new skills, says Lord Mayor at launch of digital skills project

A lack of motivation is standing in the way of people gaining new digital skills, says the Lord Mayor of the City of London, Peter Estlin.

At an event launching, a “coalition” project to increase digital skills in the UK, Estlin said a lack of motivation or a lack of understanding how digital can benefit individuals prevents people from learning the skills they need to perform certain tasks.

“Digital skills have an image problem, so how do we convince people to take time out of their busy lives to learn a set of skills that don’t seem relevant to them or that they simply don’t understand?” he said., which comprises a coalition of partners including companies, education providers, charities and the government, aims use digital skills training to improve the digital skills and digital inclusion of millions of people throughout the UK.

Founding members have agreed to collaborate to share existing resources and tools in order to scale them, growing the skills of those already within their organisations and supporting third parties such as suppliers, customers or contractors in growing their digital skills.

Research ahead of the project’s launch found there are about 200 initiatives that already exist to help train people across the UK, which suggests the problem is not a lack of available training, but a lack of motivation to engage in the training.

Estlin said helping people to “capture their passions” through the use of digital technology, for example by helping a grandparent communicate with grandchildren remotely through tech, helps to encourage them to learn how to use tech.

While firms struggle to fill technology roles because of the small pool of candidates with the right skills, many adults in the UK don’t even have the basic digital skills needed to perform tasks such as searching for jobs online.

Estlin said a lack of digital skills is “a challenge faced by us all”, adding that the speed of tech innovation and adoption is likely to leave people who are already digitally excluded at risk of falling further behind. He pointed out that there is a “human cost” of not filling this skills gap, as well as a potential loss of billions of pounds in GDP over the next few years.

“We need to ensure that no one is left behind by the rapid pace of digital innovation, whether they are in work or out of work,” he said, adding that a lack of digital skills “risks damaging lives and creating a divide in society”.

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About a million children and young people across the UK do not have adequate digital access at home, which means they cannot take advantage of online resources and services and are likely to remain socially excluded, said digital impact specialist Karensa Jennings. “Digital inclusion improves social inclusion,” she observed.

As well as mapping and signposting existing initiatives to highlight where good steps are being taken and what still needs work, will aim to change the narrative around digital, which has an “image problem”, according to several representatives from the tech sector at the project’s launch.

Negative stereotypes are often cited as a reason why people avoid using technology or pursuing a career in the tech sector, and Jan du Plessis, chairman of BT and co-chair of the prime minister’s telecoms, creative, technology and media business council, said: “You’ve got to break down the stigma, and you have to explain to people what they’re missing out on.”

With many in industry concerned that the UK’s exit from the European Union will mean a further drop in the amount of available tech talent, there is a concern that the UK needs to work quickly to increase home-grown, tech-focused skills.

Jayne-Anne Gadhia, CEO of Salesforce UKI, said that when it comes to developing and growing digital skills across the UK, firms cannot afford to be uncompetitive. “This is a thing we need to be doing for our future,” she said.

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