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Why we need to tackle the digital skills divide

The demand for digital skills across every industry is continuously increasing. Employees are now challenged to embrace a career that consists of lifelong learning to thrive and survive in an always-online world. But the digital skills gap is widening and is reportedly responsible for the UK losing out on £63bn in GDP every year.

Although mobile and emerging technologies are helping to accelerate the delivery of education, digitization is increasing the digital divide in education. Many pupils do not have the luxury of having smartphones, tablets, and laptops at their disposal. Equally, in the workplace, funding the reskilling and upskilling of workers has also been conspicuous by its absence. 

The growing problem of digital exclusion

Technology has transformed almost every aspect of our lives. How we communicate, learn, work, shop, and view entertainment is all built on complex technologies. But those who don't possess the digital skills to use new solutions can suddenly find themselves locked out of a digital world and unable to participate in society.

Education, training, job roles, and even a trip to the self-checkout at a supermarket all require digital skills.

Many older adults are also beginning to feel isolated by brands that are migrating to online-only services. While most people reading this will rely on internet banking to make quick online payments or settle bills on the move, what happens to those that don't have high-speed internet, a smartphone, or the skills to work them?

There are 274 million older people in China using cell phones, but only 134 million use smartphones to access the internet. These stats reveal that 140 million in one country have never browsed the internet on their phone.

Analysts predict that by 2050, older adults will outnumber the young for the first time in our history. The proportion of adults over 60 in society is expected to reach over one billion in just four years. Many are more than willing to learn, but a lack of help and support has left them locked out of the digital world.

From the classroom to the workplace to those enjoying retirement, digital exclusion is a problem we need to tackle urgently. As businesses focus on digital transformation projects, there also needs to be a much stronger emphasis on ensuring that everyone enjoys the ride and that nobody gets forgotten or left behind.

Internet access, education, and training

From students to retirees, anyone who does not have access to digital devices and high-speed broadband is significantly disadvantaged in life. In addition, many employees have lost their jobs due to automation or because of the pandemic. The world of tech also has a diversity problem and desperately needs to attract underrepresented people in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations.

However, there are currently 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs in the world. This is just one of many examples of how a lack of investment in training and education got us to where we are today.

There is a massive skills gap between the needs of businesses and what we are teaching our kids in schools or internal training opportunities in the workplace.

Employers now have a responsibility to reskill their employees by investing in training and supporting their staff. It should be an easy decision considering that hiring someone new can cost up to 30% of the job's salary. By contrast, training an existing employee can cost hundreds rather than thousands and result in digitally upgrading the skills of an entire team.

Businesses that do nothing can experience productivity loss and a high employee turnover which eventually impacts customers due to the mistakes made by untrained staff. In France, they are tackling these issues by launching the Grande Ecole du Numérique. The multi-stakeholder initiative is offering ICT skills training programs that meet inclusiveness and diversity criteria. If eligible, businesses can receive funding for up to 80% of their costs through a grant.

Human skills and emotional intelligence

According to analysts, 50% of jobs will be changed by automation. But behind the scary headline is the reassuring fact that only 5% will be eliminated. We cannot afford to ignore that 9 out of 10 jobs will require digital skills. As a result, low-skilled and vulnerable people will all need help upskilling to thrive and survive in a digital age.

It's important to remember that as we continue to automate repetitive and mundane tasks, it's human skills and emotional intelligence that will help employees shine in the workplace of tomorrow. A Deloitte paper predicts that soft skill-intensive occupations could account for up to two-thirds of all jobs by 2030.

When humans and technology work seamlessly together, we can begin to explore how we can amplify each other's strengths. If we invest in people, we could unlock a new wave of human innovation and creativity that transforms businesses and empowers employees to create new ways of working. But most importantly of all, it's our collective responsibility to ensure that nobody gets left behind.

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