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The 2017 UK Digital Strategy sets out the Government’s approach to ensuring that people have the skills they need to fully participate in the digital economy and are prepared for technological change. At a city and region level, each municipality has set out their ambitious visions to harness the power of digital for everyone. What this needs to ensure is that all residents develop the basic digital skills and confidence for day to day life, the current and future workforce develop the essential digital skills needed to be productive in the modern workplace, and collectively we grow a talent pipeline with the digital skills needed for specialist digital roles across the economy ensuring a strong flow of talent.
The seed funding to encourage pilots or scale-ups to make this happen appear to be available at a startling rate right now. I say appear to be, because they also come with some less then inclusive criteria to access the cash and resources, which tends to attract those large organisations who have applied (and mostly failed) with previous applications, rather than the much-needed innovative SMEs. Many funds encourage prototyping for innovative programs that aim to address local or regional digital skills challenges, while also critically, supporting people from underrepresented groups or disadvantaged backgrounds into digital roles. At the same time they attempt to mandate rather than facilitate partnership working between regional government commissioners, employers, training providers and others, to assure the necessary ‘test and learn’ codifying and sharing of best practice.
This is where it starts to get tricky. What seems to have not been thought through fully, is how this will be consumed, if and when the service or product ‘tread hits the road’. We have found that the intended target beneficiaries struggle to make sense of all these new propositions in an already muddled training and skills landscape. This is where the IBM ‘new-collar’ initiative has become a global beacon for many individuals and organisations to rally around and join forces. As employers, training providers, and socially responsible global citizens we are all trying collectively to make life-long learning a reality for ourselves, our families, and colleagues.
I set up my edutech and social innovation consulting organisation Tin Smart Social in 2015 through sheer frustration with the education opportunities open to my children, and my perception that we are failing to offer them a better future than we had. Even with all the ‘gifts’ this information and digital age has bestowed, we are still frantically searching for what I and many others believe is a logical, effective, and accessible career coaching and delivery solution. We believe we have gone some way to growing diverse digital talent with our Digisheds ‘smart skills engine’ programme. During the ‘empathy’ phase of our design sprints and MVP piloting we have been working closely with the global IBM Training and Skills team, as they curated the content for their New-Collar Certificate. Our objective was to develop an experiential ‘wrapper’ which provides the context plus practical ‘learning by doing’ activities within their four-step new-collar ‘sector-ready’ process which simulates the unexpected side of work, at scale.
Together Digisheds and the IBM New Collar Certificate programme creates joined-up pathways which enable everyone, regardless of their starting position – unemployed, ex-military, mothers or career-break returners, or in-work digital or non-digital folk – to be able to upskill quickly to take advantage of the opportunities the global skills gap has created. This scalable approach can provide real social mobility, enhanced well-being and mental health, whilst delivering a sustainable uplift in regional GVA, to power the regeneration of struggling communities. We need the smart talent, harnessed by smart businesses to enable the smart cities we hear so much about.
Delivered from 8 enterprise studios (two of which – Professional Services and AI – are sponsored by IBM) the Digisheds community spaces work with employers who are actively looking to hire entry-level to advanced digital talent. We connect learners directly to employers because we believe that as a training provider our job is to create the environment which supports both to acquire the skills that are really needed to succeed in these ‘new-collar’ roles. Most of which we haven’t even defined within job descriptions yet.
The workforce of the future will take access to learning for life as a given. Digital will be the standard way of doing everything, so it will no longer be a buzzword which precedes a large bill from consulting firms who are learning as they go. If someone says they are an expert, they are probably working on ‘old’ technology and data, given how quickly both are changing in this digital age. As this fourth industrial revolution gains momentum we want everyone to win, and I believe its up to us so called ‘little people’ rather than governments, to make it happen. IBM have created a fantastic catalyst for this change with their New-Collar initiative, and I believe as this movement continues to accelerate we can leverage it to ensure access to the exciting world of digital work, is open to everyone.