It doesn’t matter what your business does, what sector it’s in or how many people it employs, computers and devices will be crucial to its operation. Technology has grown to be the leading tool for businesses to advertise themselves, organise and process data, communicate with other businesses and to facilitate intra-business communication. With our reliance on technology so high, the growing digital skills gap poses a greater threat than ever to the productivity of businesses and the employability of those that supposedly don’t possess the nowadays often expected technological skills.

TinSmartSocial delivered a workshop at this year’s Venturefest, discussing the existence and tackling of the digital skills gap. They brought in speakers from a variety of different backgrounds, including consulting firms and those working in skills and training. It was first discussed how essential a collaborative approach would be in order to tackle the problem. Indeed, lack of digital literacy is present in all age groups and backgrounds and with many of these people representing the workforces of the future, this is a problem that urgently needs addressing.

TinSmartSocial seeks to ensure that nobody ever has to say the words ‘I didn’t get that chance.’  Digital illiteracy falls into the umbrella of diversity and inclusion, leading to many people feeling as if they did not belong in their work environments. Bridging the digital skills gap is a large part of what access is all about and cannot be ignored. Moreover, with the rise of job automation, business could become evermore tempted to automate a job rather than train someone who they deem does not already have the required skills. So, how do we address this problem?

The Panel

TinSmartSocial pointed out how essential it was that access schemes are targeted at scale at various stages of the career ladder. They outlined schemes that they had initiated wherein 5000 children in Birmingham were to receive training in digital skills. They explained how providing access on a much larger scale not only increased the amount of people that benefitted from the access, but also greatly reduced the cost of training per person. The panel then addressed what could be done to harness the skills that young people already had. Mobile phones can be found in the pockets of most young people in the Birmingham. The anecdote of a young girl with the ability to film, edit and publish a promotional video using only her phone concisely demonstrated the vast amount of skills already possessed by young people, if channelled effectively. TinSmartSocial’s understanding of this has led to Birmingham being the youngest digitally diverse area in Europe.

Alex Cole, TinSmartSocial and Iain Mansell, Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands

Not only this, but young people, being raised in the technological age, also possess the ability to know what kind of digital communication is appropriate, what with the vast amounts of methods now available. An overreliance on qualifications in the employment process has led to this skill being vastly underappreciated. It was discussed that these skills can be easily demonstrated through assessment, but not through qualification. To elaborate on this, it was raised that possession of ‘digital skills’ need not require knowledge in data science, but often simple understanding of how to use a device, skills that are often possessed by those deemed by their qualifications ‘digitally illiterate.’

The workshop concluded with a brief summary. The digital skills gap is one that needs urgent attention. TinSmartSocial is working on delivering workshops at scale to those in need of training in technology and are also raising awareness for the fact that many young people, although potentially lacking in formal qualifications, often possess valuable, sought after skills already.

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(Author: Mishaal Bhurgri, University of Warwick)