Helen Milner is CEO of Good Things Foundation, a social change charity helping people to improve their lives through digital

Today’s world is a digital one, and the digital revolution means that everyone needs essential digital skills to play a full role - not only in the workplaces of tomorrow, but in those of today as well.

It is crucial that no-one is left behind, and that everyone has the digital skills they need to enter and thrive in work. Further Education plays a critical role in providing digital skills - and with funding and support for adult digital skills qualifications due to be ramped up, now is the time to commit to 100% digital inclusion for all.

Today, 11.3 million adults in the UK still lack the essential digital skills that are necessary for life and work. Our research has found that at the current rate of investment, 12% of the UK adult population will still be digitally excluded in 2028. This means that 7 million people will miss out on the opportunities that digital can bring.

So how do we ensure that everyone has the skills they need to thrive in today’s digital world?

At Good Things Foundation, we have the same goal as the FE sector - to help everyone to learn new skills and improve their lives.

There are 5,000 Online Centres across the UK, community-based organisations who tackle digital and social exclusion by helping people learn digital skills. By working with these organisations, Good Things Foundation has supported over 2 million people to gain digital skills since 2010.

More than 80% of these beneficiaries have progressed to further learning, frequently in FE, helping to support both employment and social mobility.

Pathways of Learning: From Online Centres to Higher Skills

A key strength of the Online Centres Network is its reach into communities, engaging those who are excluded and marginalised, frequently those who are disengaged from mainstream education and skills.

People who are offline or have low digital skills are more likely to be unemployed, in poverty or have a disability, and Online Centres play a key role in helping them achieve personal goals, while also building their essential digital skills.

This creates strong potential for partnership with FE institutions with a focus on social inclusion and widening participation: particularly important as the rollout of Universal Credit continues.

As well as supporting social inclusion and creating opportunity, the pathways of learning from Online Centres to FE institutions play a key role in helping more people gain digital skills for work, and in many cases entering higher skilled jobs.

Our research has found that upskilling the whole UK population in digital skills would bring an extra £313 million in employment benefits into the economy by 2028.

Reflecting both the critical social and economic importance of digital inclusion and basic digital skills, at Good Things Foundation we’re calling on government and other organisations to make a clear commitment to digitally upskilling the nation.

#BridgingtheDigitalDivide

We want to see all organisations take positive steps towards #BridgingtheDigitalDivide, helping make the UK the first 100% digitally included country in the world.

Now, we’re inviting the FE sector to join the campaign. We know that digital inclusion can be a powerful pathway to FE, and that FE institutions have a critical role to play in raising digital skills.

Institutions like Morley College London are already leading by example, with digital inclusion included as a fundamental part of the college’s strategic plan.

Recognising the importance of digital skills, the College has identified students’ digital literacy as a top priority, taking a number of steps to ensure students can operate in the digital world, including embedding technology in the classroom and focusing on the digital upskilling of both students and staff. As a result, 83% of students agree that the use of digital resources is a good feature of their course.

By encouraging the FE sector to join the #BridgingtheDigitalDivide campaign, we believe we can move even faster towards the target of a 100% digitally included nation. Through the campaign we’d also like to continue developing relationships between FE institutions and Online Centres in communities.

We have developed a number of resources that those working in FE can use to support people in developing digital skills. Our Learn My Way platform – funded through our Future Digital Inclusion programme with the Department for Education - offers free and interactive courses that cover everything from using a mouse and a keyboard to online shopping and banking.

We have also developed a range of online resources and handbooks to help organisations working with excluded groups to engage them in digital skills. These resources are open to everyone, including FE institutions who want to help students and prospective students to gain the vital digital skills that they need.

Investing in the UK’s digital future is crucial

Nobody should be left behind as the digital revolution continues. We are making positive steps towards 100% digital inclusion, but to accelerate progress a co-ordinated, cross-sector approach is needed.

I look forward to continuing to work with the FE sector on digital inclusion, and encourage all FE institutions to join our campaign and commit to action that helps even more people benefit from the digital world.

Everyone will benefit from achieving 100% digital inclusion, and we all have a role to play in making it happen. With the support of the FE sector, we can build a positive digital future for everyone.

Helen Milner is CEO of Good Things Foundation, a social change charity helping people to improve their lives through digital.

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