Out of a UK population of c. 64 million, how many do you think ‘do not have the skills to prosper in the digital era’?
Well, apparently it’s nearly one fifth – some 19%, or 12 million people if you prefer it in actual numbers. Given that virtually everyone agrees that a more digital economy is the way ahead, that’s a scary statistic.
Go.OnUK, a charity set up to promote digital skills, has conducted some impressive research upon which these figures are based and has produced a ‘digital exclusion heatmap’ (see below).
This map, based on detailed analysis of a survey of over 4,000 people plus data about education, income, health and internet access, purports to show the areas where “people are most likely to miss out on the digital revolution.”
The charity defines five basic digital skills which (they say) we all need. These are: managing information, communicating online, making payments, solving problems and creating stuff. The last two seem a bit nebulous to me, but this is a bona-fide piece of work with a robust database and academic participation to give it added credibility.
The reporting of this study, on the BBC, Computer Weekly and elsewhere, suggests that Wales needs to up its game, because only 67% of the population there have these five skills, whereas in London, Scotland and East Anglia over 80% of people do have them. Unfortunately, the map creates a misleading impression, because large swathes of Scotland are deep purple, indicating that ‘digital exclusion’ is more likely. However, this is partly (largely?) because the Highlands and other outlying council areas (on which the study was based) are so vast on the map and have relatively poor internet access. If you look carefully at the map, the small pockets where Scotland has good figures are those with most population. It’s another case of appearances being (very) deceptive.
What does this mean though for IT and recruitment (I hear you ask!)?
The obvious answer is that if some 20% of the population are not equipped with basic digital skills, that’s a fifth of potential candidates removed at once. However, clearly it’s not as simple as that. The research did suggest that 80% of men have these digital skills compared to 74% of women. It would have been more interesting to see the results of the survey by age as if it had shown this ‘digital deprivation’ to affect younger people coming through education (as I suspect it would) in different parts of the country then that bodes ill for future recruitment.
Perhaps the real value of such research is that it acts as a benchmark for future changes. With the much publicised problems of recruiting in STEM areas generally and, from Be-IT’s viewpoint, in IT/computing specifically, an annual review of these figures, by age and gender, would be very useful. Workforce planning needs data such as these and the more of them the better. In the short term though, the problems of finding software developers and many other disciplines are not going away soon – sorry!
Susie Toner, Senior IT Recruiter, Be-IT Resourcing