NIACE evidence to Lords Select Committee

2nd September 2014

Lifelong learning is the key to the UK’s digital growth, giving everyone regardless of their age, stage or background, the opportunity to participate in a digital society, as digital citizens, workers or makers.

This is the headline message from NIACE CEO, David Hughes, who gave evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee inquiry into the digital competitiveness of the UK.

David Hughes said:

“This is a huge agenda and a hugely important one. Digital skills are critical for everyone now and yet too many people are digitally excluded. There are four important groups of people at highest risk of digital exclusion – people with disabilities, the unemployed, people in low wage jobs in mid-life and older people. Each deserves particular focus and different actions to help them stay part of our society.

“We want the Government to acknowledge that digital skills are the third basic skill – alongside English and maths – and to promote family learning through schools to improve children’s and adults’ skills. School is a natural place for parents to access technology and to learn with their children. There is enormous potential for schools to offer people a start in their digital learning through family learning.

“There are significant problems with the current skills system. Targets, regulations and funding are too tight and too focused on young people at the expense of the rest of the population – those in work and those in later life. Millions of adults will need support to start and carry on learning if they are to stay active in the workforce; 90% of new jobs need basic digital skills and of those new jobs half of them need more advanced digital skills. Millions also need support to be able to play an active part in society as citizens in a world in which Government services are ‘digital by default’.

“The skills system is also too focussed on qualifications at the expense of informal learning. People need the chances to update their digital skills as technology progresses and as their needs change and informal learning helps deliver that. No one has the digital skills now that they’ll need in 5 years time, let alone in 50 years. We need people to be lifelong learners.

“Localism is an important part of the solution, bringing together public institutions including colleges and universities, with employers and third sector community organisations. A locally-focussed social partnership can start to describe the skills and learning people can access to be able to be active citizens and get into and prosper in work.”