Businesses targeted by digital skills event

There is a digital skills shortage in Wales which ranges from people who don’t have basic digital skills, to skills required for employment and then advanced digital skills.  We base our figures on the National Survey for Wales from Welsh Government which shows that back in 2014/15 there were over 450,000 people not on the internet, or 19% of the population, which is in line with the UK average. Digital Communities Wales has made good progress in recent years and we hope that new figures from the National Survey which will be available later this year will show that more people are getting online, but we know there is much more work for us to do.

There are a range of reasons for people not getting online.  It’s not just about pipes, cables and wires. It’s also about the knowledge and understanding required. Lack of awareness of the benefits of being online is still a huge barrier so if you can encourage someone by showing them their favourite singer on YouTube and breaking down that barrier, it will help people think about the possibilities and not the negatives we sometimes see in the press.

In terms of what is being done from a digital inclusion perspective, there is the work we do but there are hundreds of organisations across Wales who are helping people get online.  Our libraries provide wonderful locations for people and offer excellent online services but we also have housing associations, community groups, businesses, Communities First and many others.  Through these huge efforts good progress has been made but to continue that we need to work even harder to embed digital inclusion through all organisations, including health boards, housing organisations, businesses and government programmes.

Digital Communities Wales is doing a number of things but none of it could be achieved without the help of all of our partners.  We are all responsible for supporting people in Wales to get online and working in partnership allows us to share methods and reach many more people.  Our role is to champion the digital inclusion agenda and ensure we bring the online world into the lives of people who are currently not able to complete tasks because they are no longer available offline.  To achieve this we do a number of things:

  • Our team of Advisers works with organisations from all sectors to explore digital inclusion and how they can help support the agenda. We talk about best practice, potential ideas, current activity around them and what could be developed.  Out of that discussion we develop a plan of actions which range from staff/volunteer training, to developing a digital strategy, to developing a bespoke project that combines elements of their work.
  • We deliver training for frontline staff and volunteers so that they are more confident helping show someone how to get online. So far, we’ve trained over 1400 frontline staff including librarians, housing officers and employees within private business. Our e-learning is currently being developed so people can complete the training in their own time.  We also run regular webinars on a range of topics, one of which will be taking place during Responsible Business Week.
  • We also support the recruitment, training and placement of digital volunteers. We recognise that in many organisations, staff don’t have the capacity to spend lots of time with someone showing them how to use the internet. So we’ve recruited over 500 people who give up their time voluntarily to do this work. More recently we have developed ‘Digital Heroes’ with a number of partners.  Heroes are young people who volunteer in their local communities to pass on the skills they are mostly very comfortable with – they are proving to be excellent tutors. Digital Heroes include young people from scouts, guides, police cadets, school children and college students.  A little video on this can be found here should you wish to take a look –
  • We loan out IT kit to organisations so that they can deliver digital inclusion activities. This kit includes laptops and tablets, but it also includes fitness monitors which are a really good way for people to combine their health and wellbeing with digital skills. This often leads to further interest and can be that key hook we are always looking for with people who are a little reluctant to develop their skills.
  • Finally, we encourage organisations and businesses to sign the Digital Inclusion Charter for Wales. The Charter allows organisations to show their commitment to making Wales a truly digital nation and so far we have over 220 signatories.

We focus on the digital inclusion element of the digital skills agenda so our focus is not so much on the curriculum.   What I would say is that there needs to be much more agility around the teaching of digital skills as the agenda moves so quickly.  We have to give more freedom to our teachers and tackle the issues of access throughout education.  If we want to exploit the potential and develop a digitally skilled nation we have to create the space for people to create, explore and innovate in a safe but open environment.  Crucially we need to allow for critical thinking, innovation and confidence as these skills are vital for us realise some of the huge benefits that our digital age presents.  The growing digital skills gap presents us with an opportunity to fill some of that space in Wales but we need to act quickly and be smart about our approach.  One of things we talk about with our partners is your digital footprint and in Scotland they are talking of the difference between digital skills and online skills – digital skills being the skills needed to complete tasks and online skills focusing on our behaviour, our responsibilities and our rights.  Thinking in this way could open up access in a positive way with people taking responsibility for their online actions.

In Wales, organisations are at different stages of digital transformation. Many are now getting to grips with the skills required and service re-design.  There are some excellent examples like the DVLA in Swansea and local authorities like Newport, Neath Port Talbot and the Vale of Glamorgan moving in a positive direction.  We also know that Welsh Government and our Welsh NHS are working hard to deliver new digital approaches.  We need to be brave and open up best practice, data and ideas so we can all benefit from this transformation.  And one thing we always have to remember during this process is those who cannot, for whatever reason, get online.

‘Supporting People to Get Online – The Role for Responsible Businesses’ is a breakfast briefing event being held by Digital Communities Wales, at the Cardiff City Stadium on Thursday 27th April. The event is free but places need to be booked in advance. You can do so by visiting the event web page. Thank you.

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