A couple of months ago, Anne Milton who is the Minister for Apprenticeship and Skills in the UK, made a stunning announcement that all adults over the age of 19 will be entitled to free ‘digital lessons’ from next year (2020).
Minister Milton highlighted recent research that indicated nine in every ten jobs will be dependent on such skills during the next 20 years. She also revealed that 4.3 million adults in the UK currently have no basic digital skills whatsoever, which represents one in five adults. Even though New Zealand doesn’t currently have a comparable digital skills measure, there is evidence that we face a similar challenge. For example, one in five adults did not (or could not) complete the 2013 Census online. This is indicative that there could be as many as 750,000 New Zealand adults who do not have basic digital skills or the confidence to use digital technologies for relatively simple tasks such as filling in a form online.
There are programmes such as DIAA’s Stepping UP initiative that are responding to this challenge. Stepping UP is being offered at over 150 locations throughout New Zealand, mainly in public libraries, but a number of community organisations are also recognising the importance of helping their clients with digital skills. If every Stepping UP partner supported 15 people a day, we could reach 750,000 people in just one year.
The missing link is funding for trainers. Libraries and community organisations most often have suitable digital training facilities; what they don’t have is funding to hire a trainer. A budget of $11.5M would solve this problem. We look forward to some targeted ‘digital skills’ funding in next year’s Budget (2020).