The Digital Skills Roundtable

09 Oct 2019



By: Jess Wilson, National Director, Good Things Foundation Australia

Driven by an urgency to address the digital skills crisis in the UK, the Lord Mayor of the City of London, The Rt Hon. Peter Estlin, has this week launched a UK coalition, future.now, to bring together organisations to motivate people and businesses across the UK to boost their digital skills to thrive in the digital age.

Good Things Foundation UK is a founding member of the future.now coalition and invited the Lord Mayor to spend an hour talking to key stakeholders in Australia about the UK experience and this new approach while he was on a trade delegation to our country.

So, on Friday 13 September 2019, Good Things Foundation Australia, with the kind support of the British Consulate (who have a room with a fantastic view of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House) hosted an intimate roundtable of key government, corporate and community stakeholders to discuss digital skills and how we make sure no one is left behind. Our new Board Chair, Jo Cavanagh OAM, facilitated the conversation that saw us share information about the digital skills landscape, hear about experiences in the UK and ask questions about how we can continue to work towards a digitally included world.

Digital Skills - the context in Australia

In Australia, there are over 2.5 million people not online and 4 million limited users. These people are missing out on all the benefits that being online can bring; and not only that, they are missing out on access to core services like banking, government websites, and health information. It’s not only older people who are lacking in digital skills, but it’s also people on low incomes, people with low education, people with disabilities, and Indigenous people.

The 2019 Australian Digital Inclusion Index report, a collaboration between Telstra, RMIT and the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University, identifies digital skills or ability as one of the key areas of digital inclusion that needs continued focus to ensure we are not leaving anyone behind. It recommends that collaboration across all levels of government is needed if the benefits of digital technology are to be shared by all Australians and that digital inclusion should be an integral part of economic policymaking and strategic planning. Along with the Australian Digital Inclusion Index, there is other research about digital skills and behaviour that helps us to understand the context in Australia. As a result, we at Good Things Foundation developed the Digital Nation to pull together some of this research and to recognise the complex landscape of the digital inclusion data and research in Australia.

Digital innovation is set to drive a $315 billion boost in gross value to the Australian economy by 2029 (according to CSIRO), but to do this we will need all Australians to have digital skills. This is recognised in Australia’s Tech Future released last year and in the new COAG Australian Digital Council’s terms of reference released in the last couple of weeks.

There are programs like Be Connected (delivered as a collaboration between Good Things Foundation, the eSafety Commissioner and Department of Families and Social Services) and programs funded by corporate partners like Telstra’s Indigimob or Google’s Digital Springboard, but to date, there is no Australian Digital Inclusion Strategy or Essential Digital Skills Framework to help guide organisations across sectors to ensure we are all working towards the same goal and to clearly measure the impact we are having - ensuring all people in Australia have the skills they need to exist in the world today.

Despite this, in some areas, Australia is leading the way. It was fantastic to have the eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman-Grant, in the room to talk about our focus as a country to keep Australians safe online.

Digital Skills in the UK

Alderman Peter Estlin took office as the 691st Lord Mayor of the City of London on 9th November 2018. His mayoral theme is “Shaping Tomorrow’s City Today”, promoting digital innovation and smart cities, alongside the importance of digital skills and lifelong learning to ensure we have the talent to support business and innovation into the future, at the same time ensuring no one is left behind.

There are 4.3 million people in the UK who have no digital skills and 11.3 million who, if they don’t upskill, will be left behind. 53% of UK employees do not have the essential digital skills required for the workplace.

Unlike in Australia, these stats are available as a result of the Essential Digital Skills Framework in combination with the Lloyds Bank Digital Skills Index and clearly show that there is still much to do to ensure no one is left behind.

Future.Now

The Lord Mayor’s establishment of the Future.Now coalition has been inspired by the Coalition for Digital Intelligence which is a multi-stakeholder community sponsored by the World Economic Forum and led by the OECD, IEEE and DQ Institute.

Future.now officially launched on 10 October 2019 and aims to:

  • Motivate people to boost their digital skills through a campaign. Many people who are not online are afraid, so, there is a need an awareness campaign highlighting the benefits and positive impacts of being online.
  • Map the digital skills landscape, focussing on critical geographical gaps and signposting them to delivery partners
  • Magnify the great work happening across the business, government, charities and education providers, with a view to scale up the initiatives with the most impact
  • Measure our impact and evaluate the campaign

This coalition officially launched this week, but the roundtable in Sydney provided us with an opportunity to preview the key areas of focus for delivering digital skills:

  • Believe in the vision - It’s important to have a big goal and a strong ambition. The Lord Mayor wants to ensure not just 1 million people have digital skills in the UK, but that 30-40 million people do.
  • Action - It’s not enough just to talk. We all need to take action to make sure that we are all doing our bit.
  • Results - We need to measure so we can make sure that what we are doing is truly having an impact.
  • Corporates as employers must be part of the solution - But, they don’t have to do all the work - part of their contribution is pointing people in the direction of the resources that are already available in the mapping and magnifying part of future.now
  • Collaborate - We can’t do this alone. Although this is all very easy to say, the message is clear - no one can tackle this alone. We need to work together to achieve our shared goal.

On the last point, I think we have started this in Australia. The Australian Digital Inclusion Alliance is a group of organisations coming together to advocate for the development of coherent strategy and framework across the country to ensure everyone has the digital skills they need to engage in our world today. Indeed the group of people at the roundtable showed a commitment and interest in working together.

But, there is much to say about collaboration across borders, too, and the Lord Mayor encouraged the continued conversation between the UK and Australia so we can share best practice and learn from each other.

I’d like to thank the Lord Mayor, Peter Estlin, for taking an hour out of his very busy schedule to spend with us and look forward to working together across the seas to learn, share and ultimately ensure no one is left behind in our digital world.