In our connected world it is easy to overlook the estimated 9.5 million people, nearly 20% of the population, who lack the basic online skills needed to send and receive email, use a search engine, browse the internet and complete online forms. Over 5.1 million people over 65 in the UK have never been online.
A typical older internet user saves over £740 a year on household bills thanks to cheaper online shopping, comparison sites and lower travel costs, which makes a big difference to the average pensioner with an income of just £18,000. It also helps to keep minds active, maintain communication and stimulate new interests..
Getting people online also makes good sense for public service providers and retailers. The cost of digital transactions is about 20 times lower than responding to telephone enquiries and 50 times lower than face to face. But many people require help and support, as well as the reassurance that online activities are secure.
Barclays Bank provides a good example of an organisation that sees the combined benefits of upskilling its staff, customers and wider society and provides free assistance to anyone that wants it. You have probably seen the adverts for its Digital Eagles, the fifteen thousand employees based in Barclays branches across the UK, that help novice internet users with tasks such as online banking, shopping and using Skype. You don’t even have to be a customer. It also holds ‘tea and teach’ sessions in some of its branches and has developed an online Coding Playground to excite children, and help their parents to understand, about developing programming skills.
Another big initiative is a free online interactive learning resource, called the Barclays’s Digital Driving Licence, which is endorsed by City & Guilds and provides easy access to high quality training resources ranging from ‘a beginner’s guide to the Internet’ , through how to use social media and online security, up to ‘building an app’ and ‘cognitive computing’. Originally developed for use by its own staff, over 80,000 people have now registered to use them including individuals, SME’s and big public sector organisations like the DWP. Their target is to reach a million people worldwide.
It is easy to be discouraged and confused when you take your first few tentative steps into the digital world. It seems to me that Barclays and a small number of other companies are showing real vision and leadership in helping to bring down the barriers that exclude large parts of our population from the benefits of the digital world. They are also backing this up with real tangible support and resources. The least that we can do is to help to spread the word.