Government launches free digital courses to up-skill adults

Digital skills

The government is devising a fresh set of qualifications that aims to skill-up a vast swathe of adult workers in the UK without a basic digital understanding.

An essential digital skills qualification, available from 2020, will lay the foundations for taking up basic digital skills while a functional skills qualification, available from 2021, offers support for employment or further education. Both will be available free of charge to all over-19s.

The basic skills course involves supporting adults with how to use digital devices like tablets, smartphones and laptops. This is in addition to performing everyday activities like browsing the web and making online payments.

"Being online is more important than ever and yet one in five adults in the UK don't have the basic digital skills that many of us take for granted," said apprenticeships and skills minister Anne Milton.

"This is cutting many people off from so many opportunities - from accessing new jobs, further study and being able to stay in touch with friends and family."

Research has previously shown that digital skills have become as important to entering the workforce as core subjects like English and Maths, the government noted.

And while the nature of these two new programmes appears basic, the courses have been devised for adult learners who are entirely digitally illiterate and unable to make that first step.

"The new entitlement will give everyone the opportunity to participate in an increasingly digital world and take advantage of digital technology, whether it is using a smartphone, learning how to send emails or shopping online," said digital minister Margot James.

There's a clear consensus around a widening digital skills gap, in not just the UK economy, but the industry on a global scale. Gartner research released last year suggested that as many as 70% of employees lack the skills they need in their current job, while 80% haven't yet grasped the skills needed to support future career development.

The discourse has not just centred on how to increase the scale of digital skills adoption among school children and university students, but also among adults who are already part of the UK workforce.

In the UK, groups such as the government-funded Institute of Coding (IoC) has laid out several initiatives aimed at tackling the skills gap, primarily through collaboration with the higher education sector.

The organisation, for example, released 5 million earlier this year to launched localised digital skills initiatives across the UK.

Chair to the IoC's advisory board Sheila Flavell branded the qualifications plans as a step in the right direction.

"All adults who feel that they lack important computer or digital skills should be encouraged to partake in these free courses," she said.

"Regardless of ones success in their respective fields of work or careers, a lack of basic knowledge such as completing online forms, working with spreadsheets and sending emails can lead to a whole plethora of issues for a business or workplace and limit the abilities of an employee.

"Moving forward, it would also be beneficial to see a broader range of progressive classes introduced - targeting adults who have some understanding of computers and digital skills, but wish to learn some more advanced computer-based skills such as coding.

"This, in-turn, would help to drastically improve the quantity of digitally capable candidates for jobs which require a much better understanding of technology than the absolute basics."

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is a writer and editor that specialises in public sector, cyber security, and cloud computing. He first joined ITPro as a staff writer in April 2018 and eventually became its Features Editor. Although a regular contributor to other tech sites in the past, these days you will find Keumars on LiveScience, where he runs its Technology section.