Digital skills has an image problem — the launch of future.now

Future.now is a new coalition of companies, public sector organisations, and charities, that is working to empower everyone to thrive in a digital UK. It launched this morning and Good Things Foundation, as one of the six founding partners of the coalition, was there today to play our role.

Future.now is the result of months of work, led by the Lord Mayor of the City of London, Peter Estlin, to make an industry-led attempt to turbo boost the UK’s digital skills. Speeches by the Lord Mayor, and by Phil Smith, the co-chair of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport’s (DCMS) Digital Skills Partnership Board, laid out the challenge to the 300 people at the Mansion House today, calling for the UK to be the most digital skilled nation in 2030, and making it clear that if we want to realise this ambition we’ve got to start now.

The numbers are stark with 11.9 million people lacking essential digital skills — and that’s not just older people, or people looking for work — it’s also about people in jobs as well. Within ten years, 90% of all jobs will require digital skills. One thing that makes future.now stand out is that employers are pledging to support their own staff to gain the digital skills they lack — not just the skills they need for the job they have today, but the skills they need to be included in our digital society, and the skills they’ll need for jobs of the future.

When I visit Online Centres in our hyperlocal network of thousands of community partners up and down the UK, I hear time and time again that the main reason people didn’t get support to learn new internet skills sooner is that they didn’t see digital as being relevant to their lives.

A lack of motivation is one of the biggest reasons we have a digital skills crisis. Technology can be overwhelming, and it can be difficult to see any point in keeping up — let alone know where to start.

Digital skills has an image problem. It’s often represented as being about the advanced end of digital — super geeky hackers, programmers and software developers doing clever things that most of us can’t understand. Very rarely do we hear how we’re benefiting from digital — how we’re now better able to improve our health, manage our money and communicate with friends and family.

We also don’t talk about how thousands of people every week are stepping forward, in local communities and in workplaces, and reaching out for support. We don’t talk about how it’s common to not understand how to do everything you might need to do online for life or for work.

Awareness raising campaigns do exist — our own Get Online Week — starts for 2019 next Monday (14th — 20th October). There are over 1200 events up and down the UK in community centres, libraries, Citizens Advice, housing providers and more — and we hope we’ll engage over 50,000 people during the week. But there are a lot of 50,000s in 11.9 million. Through collaborations like future.now — I hope we will amplify campaigns like Get Online Week to reach not just tens of thousands of people but perhaps millions of people.

We need to change the digital skills image problem, because it’s a significant barrier to people embracing the benefits of digital. And we need more storylines on soap operas like Coronation Street, but this time with a call to action to the local support that people can find in their own communities. Liz Williams tweeted:

That’s why we have launched future.now- to change that image problem, to work with the usual partners and the unusual partners, and to get stuff done. We were pleased to have not one, but two government Ministers — from two Government Departments — speak at the launch this morning. It was great to see the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Digital Minister Matt Warman, give their “full and total backing” to future.now. It’s fantastic to see so much collaboration across sectors.

It’s easy (or easyish) to have big ambitions and big plans for digital inclusion, but it feels like future.now is a coalition of people who want to dream big AND get things done. Big brands and big employers pledging to support all of their 10,000 employees to gain essential digital skills (City of London Corporation) and much much more.

I love Phil Smith’s tweet from today:

Kudos to the Lord Mayor for having the vision to make this happen, and a shout out to the other founding partners who have all worked hard to get us up to today: BT, Accenture, Lloyds Banking Group, Nominet, and the City of London Corporation.

Now we need to grow this coalition, this movement for change. We need organisations, big and small, to join future.now and pledge to tackle the digital skills crisis. You can help by pledging to: (1) build collective action, (2) build your own capability, and (3) build the capability of others.

Together we are stronger, and with your help future.now will achieve a fairer and more productive UK through boosting the population’s digital skills.

You can pledge here.

One thought on “Digital skills has an image problem — the launch of future.now

  1. Pingback: Digital skills has an image problem — the launch of future.now – Helen Milner | Public Sector Blogs

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