Joining the CBI’s Skills Think-In on 10 May, it was clear that when it comes to skills, we all have a shared vision. From local authorities and community outreach organisations to private sector business leaders, everyone round the table agreed: we can’t drive forward regional growth – attracting investment and helping to level up the UK – without a real focus on upskilling.
Building business clusters: the growing value of digital skills
In partnership with organisations from small to large in the public and private sector across the country we see the impact of digital upskilling every day. Those organisations that invest in digital can unlock new potential – in their people, in their operations and in their customer experience.
For example, our own research with the Cebr (Centre for Economics and Business Research) shows that investing in digital tools to enable more hybrid working could bring 3.8 million people previously unable to work back into the workforce. For me, digital skills are a big part of this: enabling people to get the most out of the technology that can open doors for them, and empowering them to work collaboratively in new ways.
We’ve also seen how embracing digital ways of working can transform day-to-day sales, marketing and customer service for business and public sector customers. It can be as simple as using social media marketing to reach new audiences, right through to digitising public services like organising bin collections, paying council tax or booking health appointments. But none of this is possible without ensuring employees and citizens alike have the right skillsets to make it a success.
Connected communities: tackling digital inequality
All of this brings the importance of closing the digital skills gap into sharp focus. After all, it’s not just about businesses. Today, a gap in digital skills can also disconnect us from everyday essentials – whether it’s managing our finances, accessing vital public services, or engaging with our communities.
Levelling up is about making sure everyone has access to connectivity, but for many communities, connectivity isn’t enough without digital skills. So, as we all work together to level up, we need to address both challenges. As Jo Bertram – our Managing Director, Business & Wholesale – said at the first CBI Clusters Think-In, enabling the UK to meet its digital potential is all about partnership. We need to make sure we’re building the connectivity infrastructure to support growth, but we also need to tackle digital exclusion at grassroots level.
Our work with the GMCA (Greater Manchester Combined Authority) is one such example. As part of the UK’s largest Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) programme, the GMCA commissioned Virgin Media Business to connect more than 1,500 public sites to full fibre in Greater Manchester. The multi-million-pound investment in the region is also helping assist those at risk of digital exclusion, create local jobs and tackle homelessness. It shows the power of partnerships to create lasting community change – with the public and private sector working together to draw on one another’s knowledge and experience, and make real positive change in our communities.
Skills for today – and for tomorrow
Learning and development of digital skills happens in a variety of touchpoints in our communities and workplaces. Upskilling was identified in the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper as one of the Government’s twelve “missions” – with a commitment to improve skills in all parts of the UK by 2030. As part of this, Local Skills Improvement Plans will be rolled out: giving local employers and stakeholders a role and responsibility in planning skills training in their area.
This is particularly important for digital skills, where investment not only means focusing on the skills we need today, but also anticipating the skills we will need in the coming years. Whether it’s automated manufacturing or smarter office working, the world of work is changing (fast) – so it follows that we should start with building the right foundation in our education system, but continue this with lifelong learning in employment and in our communities.
From a leadership and visionary perspective, putting digital skills at the heart of our clusters will help drive our regions – and our communities – forward. And we need to make sure that nobody is left behind. This means building a clear connection between businesses and education for the future of employment, and making sure that all organisations (small, medium and large) are set up to take advantage of the digital opportunity in front of them.