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Closing the digital skills gap for the future workforce

Written by Eleanor Bradley, MD Registry and Public Benefit, Nominet 

Earlier this week it was reported that the education of over one million children in the UK is at risk due to poor broadband connections. With schools going online for the very first time due to the pandemic, it seems the nation is finally waking up to the risks and potential long-term damage of being digitally excluded from a world that is increasingly accessed online or via digital devices.

Digital exclusion is not a new issue – around 1.9 million households lack any internet access – and there are serious concerns about the impact this has on their social exclusion. It’s also alarming how often being digitally excluded correlates with other challenges, such as being low-paid, claiming benefits or having a disability.

Beyond the social ramifications of digital exclusion, there are serious economic concerns here too because those without internet access will consequently lack the digital skills they need for the modern workplace. Estimates warn that a failure to close the digital skills gap could see the UK economy forfeit as much as £141.5 billion in GDP growth.

While it’s easier to quantify the impact of digitally excluded adults on our economy, what about our children? It’s with this demographic that the long-term impact of growing up without connectivity or the necessary digital skills to thrive in the future workforce is most severe – and now is the time to start making a change.

This isn’t a task that must fall solely to Government and educators. For those of us in the tech industry – with an eye on the future talent pipeline – we too have a role to play in ensuring young people have the skills they need, and the access they require, to be able to succeed. At Nominet, we take this seriously and are committed to using a portion of our profits for a purpose. We work to positively impact the lives of one million young people each year by 2020 by using technology as a force for good, supporting the younger generation to be connected and included in our digital society.

This starts with access to devices but goes beyond that; it’s about all young people developing the digital skills necessary to make the most of the opportunities technology presents and help support our nation’s ambitions to be a global tech leader.

One of our approaches to this task was Nominet Digital Neighbourhood, a countrywide initiative of digital skills training for young people who were then matched with a local SME for paid work experience; a crucial first step for those seeking employment in the future. This programme has evolved into This is How, a podcast series which interviews people taking on exciting digital jobs to find out what they do and how they got there. Inspired listeners can then access further training and development resources on the website to help them take their own first steps towards jobs that appeal.

We also get involved with others’ superb projects, such as the Micro:bit Foundation which introduces children to coding to spark their interest in technology and demonstrate the power of digital skills. It also allows them to see technology as offering creative opportunities, opening their eyes to the variety that the sector holds for those with skills and an open mind.

These are just two of the many ways we can help young people today access the digital skills they will need for their futures – and we can all play our part in this crucial task. We know that schools are cash-strapped and time poor; it’s on those of us within the tech sector, with resources and a vested interest in the skills of the pipeline, to identify opportunities and step up to support those we will want to hire in the years ahead. Digital exclusion is not just an issue for the length of the lockdown: it’s been here long before coronavirus and will long outlast it, unless we act.

Lisa Baker is Group Editor for the Need to See IT Publishing Group. Lisa writes about HR, Technology, Health, the Environment and Business.
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