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People not offered help to improve digital skills, BCS finds

A large number of people feel they have not been provided with enough help to increase their digital skills during lockdown

More than four out of five adults have not received any support to help them improve their technology skills during the Covid-19 pandemic, BCS has found.

Research by the Chartered Institute for IT found that 83% of adults have not had any help with their digital skills in the past six months, and many are not confident in using certain types of technology.

Rebecca George, BCS president, said: “The digital divide is a modern measure of inequality. Over nine million people in the UK lack basic tech skills, which are key to levelling up social inequality and to turbo-charging the workplace post-Covid.

“So to learn that the vast majority of people don’t recall an offer to improve their abilities in using basic software is concerning. We want to help government and industry ensure that every adult and child has the right level of digital education or training for them to succeed.”

The beginning of the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdown throughout the UK saw an increased interest in digital skills, with more than half of adults aiming to improve their digital skills in the following 12 months as technology grew in importance during lockdown.

But there has been a longstanding lack of basic digital skills in adults across the UK, with many not having the basic skills to perform tasks such as avoiding potentially harmful links or popups, being able to share documents as email attachments and knowing how to use online payments.

For example, the BCS found that 31% of people are not confident using an Excel spreadsheet for basic data management.

When it came to increasing their digital skills, almost 60% of people said most offers to help with learning came from employers, while 28% said family and friends had offered help, and 13% said they were offered digital skills help from organisations such as training providers or the government.

A large number of people expect to carry on working from home even after the pandemic has subsided, and technology has played a huge role in keeping firms and individuals afloat during the outbreak.

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Almost 90% of those who responded to the BCS survey thought digital skills would be important for the UK’s economy going forward, but 62% did not think their current level of tech training would affect their future career prospects.

Speaking at the BCS virtual skills festival, apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan said digital skills shortages could hinder the UK in recovering from the pandemic, and emphasised the need for technical education.

“This pandemic has accelerated the need for our technical education system to create a pipeline of skilled, productive workers who can support the future needs of the economy,” said Keegan.

“That is why this government had already set out an ambitious skills agenda, because we recognised that technical education was going to be the rocket fuel we needed to propel our economy, even prior to Covid-19.”

Citing new T-level qualifications, institutes of technology and funding for apprenticeships as ways the government has aimed to increase digital skills in the UK, Keegan said digital skills were “critical to almost every business”, both inside and outside the tech sector.

The government also recently announced a Lifetime Skills Guarantee offering adults without A-level education fully funded, level 3 qualifications through the National Skills Fund.

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