The costs of unequal access to ultra-broadband quickly add up today -- and future ramifications will be even more costly to country and company economies, as well as individuals' career and lifestyle opportunities.
Today, 90% of the UK's new jobs already require digital skills, according to the UK Science and Tech Committee. Yet 12.6 million British adults lack even basic digital skills and almost 6 million Brits have never used the Internet, the committee found. That digital skills gap cost the country's economy about £63 billion in lost additional gross domestic product (GDP), the report said.
And employers' ability to find suitable job candidates is at a 16-month low, the Parliamentary committee found.
Now the UK is in the middle of a countrywide ultra-broadband rollout designed to provide all residents with speedy cable-, fiber-, Gfast- or VDSL-based Internet access. Delivering connectivity, however, doesn't mean all potential employees will log on. And even if they do, melding together the worlds of tech knowledge with the skills that businesses want requires more than learning software, coding or browsing, according to "Tech Know-How: The new way to get ahead for the next generation," a November 2017 report by BT and Accenture.
With each passing month or year, the situation becomes more dire -- or more of an opportunity. The latter scenario only becomes reality if, after ultra-broadband truly is accessible to all, prospective employees recognize how connectivity and computing power transforms almost all industries and careers.
Getting Ahead With Digital Skills
Younger employees recognize tech skills will help them succeed, regardless of job, in the digital age. (Source: BT and Accenture: "Tech Know-How: The new way to get ahead for the next generation")
To do this, government agencies, educational institutions and employers must discuss digital transformation beyond coding, the BT/Accenture report said. Leaders must "break the single-minded focus on coding to inspire a generation of creative problem-solvers that value tech know-how and where it can take them," it noted. Since tech constantly evolves, it's also vital that employees realize they must continue to educate themselves -- through work programs and via self-guided instruction -- to benefit both their employers and themselves, according to the study.
"The estimated cumulative value of digital transformation to the UK economy is more than £800 billion of combined benefits to both industry and wider society over the next decade," the report said.
On the flip side, the automation that ultra-broadband empowers could help eradicate 5 million of the 9 million low-skilled jobs in the UK today, requiring immediate retraining of 5 million individuals or the risk of much higher unemployment. Simultaneously, the country will face a shortage of 3 million people to fill 15 million high-skilled jobs in 2022, the study said, citing a Social Mobility Commission paper. And who knows the impact that Brexit will have?
Younger generations have absorbed and educated themselves on many connected tools, according to a BT/Accenture survey included in the report. Despite some hesitance to define themselves as experts, comfort levels with blogging tools, websites, YouTube, gaming software and other "typical" teen fare give younger prospects an edge in the digital world.
Yet that doesn't negate the need for more formal and ongoing education.
"Companies need to view tech literacy as a business priority -- if they don't invest, they face a fundamental business risk," Pippa Morgan, head of education and skills at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said in the report.
— Alison Diana, Editor, UBB2020. Follow us on Twitter @UBB2020 or @alisoncdiana.