As part of its Digital Strategy, published back in March, the Government outlined its ambition to tackle the UK's digital skills gap. At its heart is a clear commitment to provide support for everyone to develop the skills they need to participate in our expanding digital economy. Significantly, the plan also declares that there should be "nobody left behind".
In a society that has become 'digital-by-default', it is vital that this pledge is fulfilled. While technology is a powerful driver for positive social change, these advances also bring new challenges. We need to ensure that everyone, regardless of background and circumstance, has access to the digital skills they need to interact, transact, access opportunities and solve problems in our online, connected world.
Digital skills programmes need to serve everyone, regardless of age, social circumstance, gender, or other contributors to diversity - but inclusivity is not always baked in. For example, Ellie Bradley, COO of Nominet, recently highlighted the continuing under-representation of women entering the tech workforce and studying STEM subjects at school. It is vital that such inequalities are addressed in the digital skills agenda. Programmes need to be inclusive by design if we are to realise their maximum social and economic potential and truly leave no one behind.
A very encouraging initiative working to tackle this tech gender gap is the BAFTA Young Game Designer Awards that focuses on encouraging the next generation of game makers. Although women make up only 19% of the UK games industry workforce (Ukie, 2016), BAFTA's active outreach programme (supported by funding from Nominet Trust) has achieved outstanding results, with 75% of this year's winners being young women. This demonstrates what can be achieved when programmes are designed to create equal opportunities for all.
One of the challenges in delivering digital skills programmes is that issues of inequality are varied and complex. From older people to those struggling in poverty, there are myriad reasons why so many remain digitally excluded. When it comes to young people in the UK (aged 15-24), Nominet Trust's own research shows that those least likely to have digital skills are most likely to be facing multiple forms of chronic and acute disadvantage. So, if we are to support everyone in developing the digital skills they need to thrive in our increasingly digital world, we must look at fresh approaches to delivering skills programmes.
Digital Reach is a new programme which aims to help 4,000 of the UK's hardest to reach young people acquire basic digitals skills. Uniquely, the initiative puts expert youth organisations at the heart of programme delivery - those who hold the trusted relationships with the young people currently on the wrong side of the digital divide. Six pilot schemes, running in partnership with organisations such as The Children's Society and UK Youth, will support disadvantaged young people to gain purposeful digital skills and, importantly, the confidence to pursue the opportunities these skills bring.
The Government's Digital Strategy has huge potential, but we cannot expect a 'one size fits all' approach to digital skills provision to deliver the promise of nobody left behind. Instead, organisations must work collaboratively to create diverse programmes for diverse audiences that are inclusive by design, offering support to the few as well as the many.