Digital Skills Gap
Digital disadvantage in the West Midlands; how we’re closing the gap
06 October 2023 • 4 min read
From banking and healthcare to education and transport, the daily services we depend on are increasingly shifting to digital. And while many are reaping the benefits of convenience, transparency and accessibility; our digitally-driven society is also driving a big digital divide.
Whether it’s access to devices or access to digital skills to navigate those devices, poorer communities are feeling the negative effects of our country’s inequitable tech distribution. That’s adding a barrier to universal healthcare, significant disadvantages in modern education and - in a world where 92% of jobs require basic digital capabilities - it’s putting the digitally disadvantaged at the bottom of the talent pile.
At the centre of that divide is the West Midlands, with 22% of the population being completely offline - the highest figure of any region in the UK. It’s reported that over half of the West Midlands population lack the essential digital skills needed for work; leaving over 2000 jobs currently unfilled in the West Midlands, and holding back growth and innovation for 600+ businesses in the area.
How AND Digital is addressing digital disadvantage in the West Midlands
If you know AND Digital, you hopefully know our mission; to close the world’s digital skills gap. West Midlands-based Club Woods* is driving that mission daily by equipping clients with digital skills, but they’re also taking it one step further - by actively closing the gap for disadvantaged young people in their local area.
Since the beginning of 2023, volunteers at team Woods have equipped over 1,250 local young people with digital skills and knowledge; volunteering their expertise at events like Arthur Terry School’s Careers Fair, Birmingham City University’s STEM day, and STEM events at King Solomon International Business School, Bishop Challoner College and Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College.
By providing support and education for the region’s young people, the team is fighting the inequalities associated with lack of access to digital devices, and equipping them with the digital skills they need to reach their potential in education and work.
*Clubs are what we call our offices, and this one’s named after pioneering mathematician and computer scientist Mary Lee Woods!
Working with Ahead Partnership to tackle the digital divide
On a joint mission to support under-represented and underprivileged people in the workplace, Club Woods has partnered with third-sector organisation Ahead Partnership. Together, Ahead Partnership and Woods are building skills, competencies and career aspirations, and connecting young people with employers across the West Midlands.
Ellie, an experienced User Researcher and Delivery Manager within the Club from AND, says:
“It’s been fantastic to work alongside Ahead Partnership to inspire the next generation of talent in our industry. It’s essential for businesses like ours to have a strong talent pipeline, and to achieve this it’s vital that we engage with local young people, especially those who are underrepresented within the sector. Having a diverse workforce helps us develop fresh ideas that speak to the needs of our diverse society.”
In 2023, closing the digital divide has manifested in local career panels, speed networking, workplace visits and digital masterclasses - all focused on widening career opportunities for young people at a digital disadvantage. Club Woods and Ahead Partnership recently brought that approach together, when they hosted Year 9 students for an immersive day in Birmingham. After a workplace tour, the students embarked on a design masterclass; learning digital skills AND driving a brighter future, as they worked to map out technology solutions for UN sustainability goals.
#GirlTechWM: Inspiring a new generation of digital experts
Eagerly anticipated every year, Ahead Partnership’s #GirlTechWM opens up a new world of opportunities and role models for young people. Debunking the myths of working in tech (it’s only for computer geniuses, you need a degree, it’s anti-social, it’s only for men) the event inspires female and non-binary individuals to consider digital paths that could fulfil their career aspirations, before they settle on their GCSE subjects.
This year, 70 West-Midlands students enjoyed inspiring keynote speeches from a coalition of dedicated businesses, including AND Digital, Goldman Sachs, Pincent Masons and Intercity. They explored the world of tech that goes beyond coding; speaking to AND’s User Researchers, Service Designers and Delivery Managers about their roles, and the squiggly routes they took to get there.
90% of attendees reported a new interest in a tech career, and 93% felt confident they knew the skills needed to progress in the tech industry.
Leonie Matthews, Programme Manager at Ahead Partnership, leads the Growing Talent West Midlands programme, and said:
“AND Digital Club Woods has supported us to deliver incredibly impactful events through our Growing Talent West Midlands programme, from sponsoring our flagship #GirlTechWM event, to volunteering at careers panels and speed networking events that help to showcase the varied careers and routes into digital and technology, as well as role modelling those professions.
Our Growing Talent West Midlands programme is designed to address the specific skills gaps and diversity and inclusion challenges within digital and technology. The programme brings together key employers within the region to support young people to realise their potential, regardless of background. Together this year the programme has supported over 5,500 young people in 55 activities aimed at increasing awareness and aspirations.”
It's been fantastic to see the physical divide be bridged in 2023, with the West Midlands Connected Services Project issuing 17000 digital devices to the offline community. Now, tackling the skills divide needs commitment from our industry; to bridge the gap not just for businesses and individuals now, but for a brighter future in the West Midlands.
If you’d like to learn more about our work in the region, or get involved in our digital skills gap initiatives, get in touch with Ellie Wood.