The Employment Digital Divide

It has recently been highlighted in the news that across the UK we are seeing increasing digital inequalities affecting students, as some students do not have access to laptops or the internet at home, creating a barrier for learning remotely. There are digital inequalities of a similar nature for adults taking part in remote learning, and during this time as we see ELBA’s Future Fit programme transition from face-to-face to online learning, we identified some of the technological challenges faced by those taking part in the programme.

Future Fit responds to the increased use of technology in the workplace and the changing skills needed by employees (particularly front line) working in the Facilities Management (FM) sector who are likely to be more vulnerable to technological advancements in their industry. This includes cleaning, catering, front of house, reception and security. The programme aims to help workers have the motivation, means and opportunity to adapt to and thrive in the digital economy. With the global pandemic the pace of technological change has accelerated and with that the need for programmes like this has become more apparent.

During lockdown, the programme swiftly transitioned from face to face to remote delivery on Zoom with  the majority of participants accessing the training whilst on furlough or working from home, bringing with it challenges for some in accessing the digital learning platform. The introduction to Zoom has been a new experience for many taking part and extra time has been needed to support them to navigate their way around this digital platform so they can fully engage in the interactive activities during the sessions.  Some of the employees hadn’t previously interacted with technology at work and there was a need to support their learning in Zoom etiquette such as muting the mic, raising a virtual hand, identifying the Zoom chat , clicking on a link in the Zoom chat, to enable them to engage with others and take part in the interactive activities.

“This workshop improved my digital skills. By the end of the two weeks, I am able to use Zoom comfortably. I learnt how to navigate the Zoom App, eg. if I want to rename myself, chat to everyone or individually, put my hand up, etc…”

With the increased usage of Zoom in the UK and with adult internet users reaching 13 million during the month of April, we can assume that this and other virtual meeting platforms are rapidly becoming the norm for communicating in the workplace. Support for those who are not yet tech savvy or computer literate is even more essential at this time. As of 2018 there were still 5.3m adults in the UK (or 10% of the UK adult population) who had either never used the internet or haven’t in the last 3 months.

Most of the people we support have little or no access to devices such as a laptop, iPad or computer and are heavily reliant on mobile phones and paper resources to support their learning.  Challenges with virtual learning are further compounded by language barriers (as many participants have limited English) and Wi-Fi access, as only 51% of households earning between £6000-10,000 per annum had any home internet with many experiencing low bandwidth and issues with reliability In comparison to 99% of households with in income of £40,001 + which showcases the link between poverty and digital exclusion.

As we venture forward through this pandemic, The Future Fit project and additional support to address the digital divide becomes ever more prevalent.  We will continue to work with partners to support our delivery, enhance our resources and assist with infrastructure challenges, which are crucial if we are to avoid a return to long term entrenched unemployment.

For further information on our Employment and Skills work contact:

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ELBA Ceo blog digital divide in covid