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Lord Mayor Calls for Urgent Action to Tackle Digital Skills Crisis

Speaking at the Annual Lord Mayor’s Gresham Lecture at Guildhall, the Lord Mayor of the City of London Peter Estlin explored the digital skills crisis and what action needs to be taken to ensure that citizens are equipped to benefit from the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’. He will also back a UK Coalition for Digital Intelligence.

Lord Mayor Peter Estlin said:

“The arrival of the digital era is widely regarded as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’. Britain pioneered the first industrial revolution; the fourth presents us with an opportunity to lead the world again. However, brave and bold action will be required to ensure that this is indeed an opportunity rather than a crisis.

“The economy and, indeed, life in general are rapidly advancing towards a world of AI, Big Data, quantum computing, nanotechnology, the Internet of Things and many other technological innovations. Much of our day-to-day lives are now spent online, from shopping to news, from health services to entertainment. Digital has become the new norm.

“But in the summer of 2016, the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons published a report on the UK’s digital skills readiness, building on the earlier work of the Shadbolt and Wakeham reviews. This report made stark reading. Even its opening sentence gave cause for concern: “The evidence is clear that the UK faces a digital skills crisis.”

“What evidence were they were looking at?

“Well, they were looking at the 12.6 million adults in the UK (that’s 23% of our adult population) who lack basic digital skills, like finding information online, completing digital forms, or sending messages through a device. They were looking at the 5.8 million adults in the UK (9% of the population) who had never even used the Internet, in most cases because they didn’t know how, not for lack of access. And the Committee was also looking at the schools without hardware, the teachers without qualifications, the job vacancies without skilled applicants, and the cost to our economy, at £63 billion pounds per year in lost GDP. That’s about 8% of government spending.

“So the Committee was right: the evidence really is clear. It’s widespread, too. McKinsey,  Accenture,  NESTA  and London First have all drawn attention to digital skills shortages in the jobs market. The Government’s white paper on the UK Industrial Strategy has highlighted the limited take-up and application of technology in business, particularly for SMEs. Meanwhile, last year’s Charity Digital Skills Report revealed that 45% of charities don’t yet have a digital strategy to outline their use of technology.

“On the face of it, we really are experiencing a digital skills ‘crisis’. However, it is often said that every crisis presents an opportunity. In this case, we are presented with an opportunity for the UK to do what the UK does best: innovate.

“Industry, communities, educators and government must come together to innovate at scale.

“What we need is a framework that sets out the need for these skills, clearly defines them, and then guides people to where they can go to develop them.

“Whatever framework we eventually adopt as the best to equip the UK population with the skills required for the digital economy, surely it must be a lifelong system accessible to everyone. As I like to say, every one of us needs a regular skills MOT to remain a fully engaged citizen of the digital age.

“This situation is not unique to the UK; it is a global challenge.

“There are, already, many digital skills initiatives and programmes scattered across the public, private and charity sectors. Millions have been – and continue to be – invested in digital skills around the world. The question we must now ask ourselves is, “How do we coordinate these efforts?”

“The most exciting opportunity, in my opinion, is the emergence of the Coalition for Digital Intelligence.  Though it is still at an embryonic stage, the Coalition seeks to provide a platform for organisations to coordinate their efforts to set global standards and share understanding for the advancement of digital intelligence.

“Over the next few months, as part of my mayoral programme, we will look to solicit interest in a UK Coalition for Digital Intelligence. This will have the following aims:

  • to help organisations advance their digital intelligence;
  • to promote a common understanding of digital literacy and skills;
  • to define and disseminate best practice as well as usable metrics; and
  • to highlight sources of funding and capability.

“This was one of the key actions that emerged from a Digital Skills Summit held at the Mansion House last November. We welcomed 300 representatives from businesses, social enterprises, charities and local government to discuss the digital challenges that they face, and the opportunities for collaborative solutions.

“Success will require greater collaboration, idea-sharing and innovation – the same principles that catalysed the first industrial revolution in Britain. I believe that our next step must be with a UK Coalition for Digital Intelligence.”

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