What's the problem?
Everyone needs the foundation and essential digital skills as a minimum to be able to use the internet confidently and safely. However, 15% of people lack foundation skills, and more than 1-in-4 lack essential digital skills.
Foundation and Essential digital skills are the activities that are felt to be the minimum level of knowledge and expertise that everyone needs to be able to live and work in the modern world. Foundation digital skills include activities such as having the confidence to switch on a new device, or switch on accessibility settings to make it easy to use. Essential digital skills cover activities that build on that and are outlined in the four quadrants of the diagram below, including how to carry out all activities in a safe, legal and confident way. These include how to bank online, communicate with family and friends and carry out work related activities such as understanding, verifying and using results from a Google search.
Link to poverty and inequality
The profile of people who do not have essential digital skills is unsurprisingly similar to that of those who are offline. Older people, people with disabilities and people on low incomes are all more likely to lack essential digital skills.
When developing essential digital skills, more fundamental issues around literacy often arise and need to be addressed first.
Moving on from the pandemic
The pandemic was a period of intense digital upskilling, and the data reflects an improvement in people who have all of the foundation digital skills. However, as we move into a more mixed environment of online and offline activities, this may be likely to reduce without continued support. If we don’t redouble our efforts to highlight the continuing value of maintaining their skills levels and equipping everyone with foundation and essential digital skills, it’s unlikely they will be able to fully realise all the benefits and they will be exposed to greater risk related to online harms.
We cannot only think in blanket ways about interacting within the internet. There are many digital divides for many different groups of people. For example, while young people are commonly described as ‘digital natives’, 3% still lack essential digital skills. A study of young people not in employment, education or training in Scotland showed that they spent upwards of 42 hours per week online, compared to an average of 24 hours across their peer group, yet struggled to derive major socio-economic benefit from their significant usage and remained disenfranchised in the realms of job searching, application and other associated activities.
What does good look like?
People are met where they are, with employers taking more responsibility for encouraging digital upskilling, and a better, more connected network of skills provision in our community.
Access to support to develop foundation and essential digital skills is least available where it’s needed most. Therefore, we must be mindful of where time and resources are allocated in building digital inclusion to ensure we reach those who need the most support.
An essential prerequisite to helping people build their digital skills and confidence is a digitally confident workforce. Currently across the UK, 59% of workers don’t have all the digital skills they need. Organisations across all sectors can help narrow the digital skills gap by including digital skills training in the workplace, for the benefit of the wider workforce. This in-turn enables the workforce to support people accessing our services. Organisations should consider their approach to digital upskilling and ensure that this forms a core part of staff development. Many organisations have benefited from workplace Digital Champions programmes.
The interventions required include online self-directed learning opportunities – these can work best for those that are currently digitally included and need to commit to continued digital skills development. For beginners, community-based support (those trusted faces in local places) can be best.
Evidence from the Digital Participation Charter Fund and other projects to build foundation and essential digital skills has shown that people learn best from:
The provision of such support can be patchy across our communities, often making it difficult for people to find opportunities local to them. Initiatives like the National Digital Inclusion Network from Good Things Foundation are helpful for finding such opportunities. Scotland needs a well-resourced network of digital upskilling opportunities in local communities, that people know how and where to access.
What needs to happen?