Digital skills are a right for all

More of us, using more devices, are exploiting digital to make meaningful connections
with our social networks, to create our own business opportunities and to facilitate our
engagement with Government.

In this context, digital skills have become as important as reading and writing.

Why? Well, digital has the potential to be a great leveller. It can democratise people’s
ability to get involved in society. And, as shown by well publicised examples like Uber or
Netflix, it can shorten the value chain and create new opportunities. However, to take
advantage of the possibility to be more competitive economically, and to enhance social
cohesion and mobility, a fully functioning digital society requires that its members obtain
the requisite digital skills.

Through our unique ‘one for one’ business model, Freeformers is dedicated to ensuring
that digital is, as per Tim Berners-Lee’s vision, for everyone and can be a catalyst to
achieve a more productive and inclusive society. We provide hands-on training for
businesses to take advantage of the opportunities provided by digital technologies.
And, for each employee we train, we coach a young person for free – helping them
transform the digital experience they’ve grown up with into a marketable skill set.
For us, the key to unlocking the potential is confidence.

Despite our use of various devices on a daily basis, many of us perceive digital as ‘not for
someone like me’. There’s a lingering perception that it’s complex, intellectual and for
‘techy’ specialists, as well as basic barriers around jargon.

Our mission is to empower people to think digitally, to help them understand the
possibilities and to drive digital transformation from within the organisation. We do this
by equipping our students with a ‘toolkit’ of 4 key digital skills: developing an
understanding of coding and how the internet is built, of social media channels and
trends, of the power of digital advertising and of cyber security – which is embedded in
everything digital and a common barrier to consumer adoption. The building blocks not
only provide immediately actionable skills, but the training also instils a healthy curiosity
about the digital world that inspires people to keep learning – that’s crucial to keep pace
with a rapidly changing technology environment.

Even young people who’ve grown up as digital natives, and who are creative and
comfortable using multiple social networks, don’t necessarily believe that technology
is an area they can consider for a career. Or that their skills might be of interest to a
company, or be of use entrepreneurially. As with those coming from the corporate world,
we show them the possibilities and give them the confidence to go out and shoot for the
stars. Some of them even become our trainers – inspiring CEOs with the possibilities
of digital.

Digital inclusion is critical and, while we’ve had great success, we’re just one
organisation among many who are making headway. Fantastic charities, often with the
support and investment from businesses and Government departments, like Apps for
Good and Code Club are working with schools around the country, teaching thousands
of kids how to create a digital response to real-life problems and opportunities. We are
also proud to be partnering with the BBC on Make it Digital – a yearlong initiative to
inspire a new generation to get creative with coding, programming and digital
technology. We also welcome the recent inclusion of coding into the curriculum – but
would like to see this go further and embed digital skills across all subjects – from
Maths to English to the arts – in a hands-on manner, learning in an immersive way.
Government can also do more to provide a roadmap for future improvement –
signposting where the vulnerabilities lie, and co-ordinating and connecting businesses
and charitable support to address them – ensuring that all groups of society, from north
to south, urban to rural and young to old are covered.

While there’s a lot to be positive about, as shown by the finding in this report that 16%
of households remain unconnected, more needs to be done. Creativity and innovation
are key competencies for UK Public Companies and technology is critical to
maintaining and strengthening our economy and our position in the world. That’s why
we invite everyone – individuals, business and Government – to join us in ensuring that
digital skills are embedded into our creative and entrepreneurial culture now, and for
the years to come.