Underrepresented Represented

Last week the government launched a new fund to boost the diversity of people working in digital and tech jobs. Welcome news to the sector and to people who would otherwise not be able to establish themselves in these fields.

The fund includes a “£1 million Digital Skills Innovation Fund and will help people from underrepresented groups gain the skills they need to work in digital roles’”and “an additional £400,000 to help older and disabled people get life-changing digital skills”.

According to a report by the British Computer Society, only 17% of the UK’s IT workforce are non-white and only 17% are women. It also says that 21% are aged over 50 and only 8% are disabled.

My work with DCMS on the Digital Skills Partnership Board and in thinking about how to make this happen in Local Digital Skills Partnerships has brought sharply into focus the issues we have with recruitment for digital roles and how essential it is to bring in more people and more people from the whole diversity of our nation (be it gender, ethnic background, or age). I’m pleased to see the Tech Talent Charter also got more Government support in this announcement – and they’re featured in the LDSP Playbook. (You might remember my blog about our own recruitment issues at Good Things.)

I’ve had a few ideas about career changers, inspired by people who have come to LDSP Creative Summits, that I voiced on this podcast recently.

Good luck to everyone who’s going to bid into this new fund – innovation is one of those over used words, but in this case the nation really needs to know how to crack this nut and to help grow a bigger, and a more diverse, tech sector.

Tech careers aren’t the only need out there

The additional fund of £400,000 to help older and disabled people is a welcome move to the Good Things Foundation team and the Online Centres Network.

Many of the learners who come into Online Centres are older or have some kind of disability.

According to Lloyds Banking Group’s Consumer Digital Index 2018, disabled people are four times more likely to lack basic digital skills – that’s 3.5 million people – and 28% of those aged over 60 are digitally excluded.

Disabled people and older people need equally as much help, if not more, to make the most of computers and the internet.

The solution we’ve been waiting for?

There’s no doubt that there has been more of a focus on digital upskilling in the past few years, with different sectors working together to make it happen. The Online Centres Network works hard every day to support people in their communities. But there’s only so much we can all do without financial support to do it.

We can’t go into this thinking that the new funding means we’ve found a solution to the UK’s digital skills problem. But we can go into it knowing that it will go a long way in helping millions of people to succeed in the online world and in digital and tech careers.

At Good Things Foundation, we’re always working hard to solve the digital skills crisis, and we have so many more ideas to bring to the table. We’re happy to talk any time.

Government plans to make the UK one of the most digitally-skilled nations

Amid all of the noise this weekend – ahead of the Conservative Party Conference – about Brexit and grammar schools, the Government has quietly leaked a new policy that seeks to make the UK one of the most digitally-skilled nations. This will mean that there will be “publicly-funded basic digital skills training being offered free of charge to adults in England who need it”.


This makes asking for free, publicly-funded basic skills learning a right for any adult who needs them, and this will be enshrined in the upcoming Digital Economy Bill.

Wow. Great news. There are 12.6 million people in the UK who don’t have the basic digital skills they need to function in a digital world. This means they’re missing out on jobs, flexible and convenient digitised public services, and personal savings of over £700 a year. And, it’s not just the people who are missing out – it’s the country too, with the Commons Science and Technology Committee saying that poor basic digital skills mean the country is missing out on £63 billion a year in lost GDP.

It’s music to my ears to hear a policy statement that says not being able to use the internet is as important as lacking basic skills in English and Maths. A real policy for the 21st century.

However, is this just ‘business as usual’? This new entitlement will be paid for by the existing Adult Education Budget which is all already allocated, mostly to Further Education Colleges.

Will FE respond appropriately or they will just tweak their plans enough to show willing and carry on as they’ve always done?

The people who lack basic digital skills are the same people who also lack jobs or have low skilled jobs; they lack good qualifications, and are living on low incomes. These people need to be at the forefront of the plan.

Let’s not kill this policy with traditional and expensive classroom learning in formal institutions. Let’s accelerate this policy using brilliant online learning like Learn My Way. Online learning drives up quality through a guarantee for user focus, excellence, and the right content for the right outcomes. Online learning can also drive down costs as it can be scaled easily and quickly. Online learning can empower people themselves to self-serve and take control to improve their own basic digital skills (assuming they have a little skill to start with).

And online learning can provide a universal curriculum for hyperlocal community-based providers who can blend it with great, personalised, informal and local support.

Online learning can deliver high quality at scale, and should form an essential element in the Government’s plan for a 100% digitally skilled nation.

This new policy is really great news. I’m delighted.

I just hope that we don’t miss the huge potential impact a well implemented policy can have on millions of people’s lives. I’m sure we will know more over the coming weeks.

DCMS press release is here.