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Collaboration across sectors is needed to tackle the UK’s digital skills divide, says business coalition FutureDotNow.
A recent FutureDotNow report, looking at data from large businesses and research from Lloyds Bank, found that 36% of adults in the UK do not have the essential digital skills needed for the increasingly digital world of work, and the industry collective said a co-ordinated effort is needed to address this lack of basic digital skills.
FutureDotNow CEO Liz Williams said: “We are living in a two-tier society, a world of digital haves and have-nots. This presents a huge risk for individuals and their life chances, and for businesses and their ability to engage with customers, respond to change and prepare for the future.
“It also presents opportunity. Helping people build these essential skills is a win-win for businesses, benefiting their employees and making sure organisations can meet the challenges of our increasingly digital world. But collaboration is crucial. At FutureDotNow, our focus is on bringing businesses together to take practical steps and find solutions that work for both the wider industry and the individual.”
Digital skills gaps exist throughout the UK, not just at a more technical level which prevents organisations from finding skilled workers, but at a basic level which prevents people from fully participating in modern activities.
While the pandemic forced many people online as day-to-day activities became digital, there still exists a proportion of the UK population without access to technology or the skills to engage in digital activities.
FutureDotNow was launched in 2019 to bring together organisations dedicated to increasing proliferation of digital skills across the UK. The coalition has about 160 members and works to create best practice as well as develop and deliver programmes for providing digital skills.
Its recent call to action points out that there has been some progress in ensuring more people in the UK have the digital skills deemed essential for work, as suggested by the government. Some 64% of UK workers now have at least one skill in each of the categories considered essential for work – communicating, handling information and content, transacting, problem-solving and being safe and legal online.
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Although this a 16% increase on 2020, it still leaves 11.8 million people without skills such as the ability to set up and use video-telephony products, share information across devices, digitally access documents such as payslips, or follow organisational guidelines for login and password policies. About 8% of the workforce lack even a foundational level of digital skills.
When it comes to gaining these skills, FutureDotNow is encouraging those across the industry to work together to help more people acquire digital skills, claiming that digital skills education cannot be delivered by “a single organisation”.
FutureDotNow has already been working with partner organisations to try to address these issues, and going forward it says it will help to close the digital skills gap by working with individual regions in trying to pinpoint where skills gaps exist and why, and continuing to work with senior leaders and decision-makers to try to drive policy changes, including the development of a simplified skills framework and the incorporation of digital skills modules into the education system.
This is not the first time collaboration has been put forward as the answer to problems with technical education – government, education providers and the tech sector itself all have a part to play in ensuring people have the digital skills needed for work and life.