An inclusive digital future?

8 September 2015

No one would disagree that the future is digital, but are we doing enough to make sure that everyone is prepared for it?

This week, NIACE is hosting the UK’s third annual European Agenda for Adult Learning Conference. It is a fantastic opportunity for education leaders from across Europe to discuss the implications of reduced investment in learning. The digital workshop will explore how partnership at a European, national and local level is essential to address the digital skills deficit.

So why is this so important?  A consequence of technological innovation is the need for digital skills. These skills are essential for every member of 21st century society to access information and public services, interact, learn, find and gain employment or progress their careers. But nearly 20% of Europeans have never used the internet. In the UK, there are approximately 10.5 million adults who do not have basic digital skills. 69% are in the C2DE socio-economic bracket which includes the most disadvantaged and excluded members of our society who are often furthest from the labour market.

According to the European Commission, by 2015 90% of all jobs will require basic digital skills in almost every area of employment, with digital technology complementing other skills. But an estimated 40% of people in the EU workforce do not have the necessary skills, while 14% have no digital skills at all. The Programme of International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) reviewed skills across OECD nations in 2013 and found that an average of 14.9% of adults across OECD countries possessed either no or basic levels of ICT competence. In the UK around half of adults do not have the digital skills needed by employers, although 62% of employers are concerned about the level of IT skills in their current workforce.

Digitisation is having a profound impact on businesses. Employers recognise the value of digital skills both now and in the future, for existing and future staff. They recognise it is not just about installing new technologies, it is about staff using technology to share, connect and analyse, increasing productivity and efficiency as well as connecting with customers and reaching new audiences.

In our project findings for ‘What Employers Want’, one employer said, “Keeping up to date with developments in ICT and digital technology is vital to the success of our business. Technology changes at a fast pace. All employees need to be open to change and able to adapt to new technology.”

At NIACE’s recent forums for educationalists in each of the UK nations, delegates discussed how the most disadvantaged are more likely to lack these skills, making them less likely to be employed, or able to support their families’ learning or full participation in society. They argued that while community based interventions are successful in supporting the most vulnerable in taking their first steps in digital competence, they should also offer more opportunities to progress these skills to support employment. They also agreed that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to fulfill their digital potential and that community and family learning has an essential role to play in offering greater access to opportunities for a wider variety of young people and their families.

The forums reached a consensus that this could only be achieved through partnership, at European, national and local levels, between community learning providers, community organisations, the technology third sector, national and international agencies, schools, employers and in England, with Local Enterprise Partnerships. NIACE has established a national partnership with these stakeholders to increase the number of disadvantaged people participating in digital activities and to support changes in attitudes to the importance of digital skills for life, work, employment and careers. This, among other approaches from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, will be discussed further at the conference, identifying how we can work together more coherently across Europe for a more inclusive digital future.

Susan Easton is the Head of Learning for and with Technology at NIACE