Can we get 100% of the UK population thriving in a digital world by 2028?

STEM, Digital skills

Surprisingly, 6.4 million UK residents have never used the internet and 9.5 million people lack the basic digital skills needed to browse the internet, send and receive emails and complete online forms. The latest research shows that nearly three-quarters of adults who lack these basic online skills are vulnerable, from lower income groups, have disabilities or are older.

These statistics are all the more worrying when we consider the fact that it’s predicted 90% of all jobs in the next 20 years will require some digital skills. In fact, digital skills are now deemed so important in job applications that they are considered just as crucial as maths and English.

Today, many digitally-savvy individuals take basic digital skills for granted. Most of us can confidently use the internet to make purchases, pay bills, do online banking, monitor a health condition, keep in contact with friends and family and even browse and apply for jobs online. But imagine life without these basic digital skills - you’d risk being trapped in a cycle of long-term unemployment or left to social exclusion and loneliness.

But it's not just vulnerable individuals who are losing out. Charities without an online presence are missing out on the £2.4bn now donated every year using the internet, over a third of all the annual charitable donations made in the UK. And it’s also been predicted central and local government could save more than £5bn a year if more services were provided online.

Thankfully, efforts to close the digital divide are well underway. The Good Things Foundation is calling on the government and other organisations to help the UK become the most digitally included nation in the world. The goal of their campaign is getting 100% of the UK population thriving in a digital world by 2028. But is this ambition realistic?

Whether this is achievable is yet to be seen but the government and non-for-profit organisations have recognised a tremendous opportunity to empower people, transform lives and support vulnerable groups.

Last month, Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton unveiled new qualifications based on rigorous national standards to equip adults with vital digital skills. Free courses will be offered to thousands of people to help the 1 in 5 adults with no or low basic digital skills, learn how to thrive in an increasingly digital world and cover topics such as sending emails, completing online forms and using mobile devices. But this isn’t the only initiative that has caught our attention, take a look at some of these incredible programmes around the UK helping to bridge the UK's growing skills gap.

Code Club

Code Club is a global network of free coding clubs for young people aged between 9 and 13. Their projects allow children to make their own games, animations and websites with coding languages such as Scratch, HTML/CSS and Python. There are currently over 12,000 clubs in over 160 countries, supporting over 180,000 young people learning to code each week, but they’re not stopping there; their mission is to launch a Code Club in every community in the world!

Microsoft's digital skills programme

Microsoft’s digital skills programme has been designed to provide everyone with basic online skills, to nurture children’s passion for computer science to prepare them for the world of tomorrow and provide essential training to businesses and IT professionals who need to develop their understanding of cloud. By 2020, they hope to have trained 30,000 new digital apprentices, 30,000 trained public sector officials and 500,000 new cloud experts.

Institute of Coding

The Institute of Coding is a new initiative funded by the Department for Education via the Office for Students. Supported by 33 universities and 81 employers across England and Wales, the scheme aims to create new courses, develop digital skills and provide support that attracts fresh talent into digital careers as well as empowering organisations to bridge the digital skills gap.

Part of their mission is to break down the barriers that discourage people from tech education and careers as well as providing different ways to access digital education.

UK Government Digital Skills Partnership

The Digital Skills Partnership (DSP) brings together public, private and charity sector organisations to help increase the digital capability of individuals and organisations in England. Its work extends from a commitment within the UK Digital Strategy which sets out government’s ambition to create a world-leading digital economy that works for everyone.

The aim of the programme is to improve digital capability across the whole skills spectrum - from the essential skills that help reduce digital exclusion, to the skills workers need in an increasingly digital economy, and the advanced skills required for specialist roles.

Thanks to initiatives such as these, we can begin to tackle the digital skills gap head on. Research has revealed that increased digital skills are beneficial to public services, leading to improvements in education; connecting older and isolated people to their communities more effectively; helping adults back into work and improving health and social services.

The success of the UK tech sector has created a huge demand for people with digital skills. However, this talent pool won’t miraculously appear overnight which is exactly why we need more programmes like these to bring together businesses, outreach organisations and educators to actively build a new digital workforce fit for the future.

Posted by Helen Thomas