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Digital skills for Britain

04 November 2013

Digital skills for Britain

The Internet has become an integral part of everyday life, and in the UK we benefit from access to one of the fastest digital networks in the world. With next generation broadband networks continuously growing, new opportunities are opening up for individuals and businesses across the country. But for those who lack the skill to tap into and make use of this powerful infrastructure the digital divide continues to grow ever wider.

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Dan Butler

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At Virgin Media we believe that continuously building broad band networks and providing world beating speeds is simply not enough to make sure that the UK gets the most out of digital. To continue leading the way in digital innovation and services, we need to invest equally in people’s skills and capability to use the Internet, as well as the infrastructure to make that happen. So Virgin Media has partnered up with Free Formers, an innovative digital skills training agency to make sure that people across the UK have the knowhow to get the most out of the Internet.

Small businesses in particular stand to gain a huge amount from having the skills to develop fully digital businesses. According to a report published by digital champion Martha Lane Fox, digital technology can unlock as much as £18.8 billion in revenue for SMEs - yet only 14% currently sell their products or services online.

That’s why Virgin Media chose to run our first pilot project focusing on training small businesses in digital technology. In July this year, we hosted a digital skills training programme for 24 small businesses in Birmingham. The workshop helped equip participants with practical digital skills to help them to grow their own businesses and to become more familiar with all the ways that digital technology can make good things happen for businesses in Birmingham, the UK and across the world.

We are continually exploring how to better support small businesses through future partnerships with Free Formers and looking at how we can develop a product set that responds to SME specific demands and needs. But we know there are even bigger challenges out there in terms of addressing the lack of digital skills in the wider UK public.

More than 16 million people in the UK lack the most basic digital skills, such as being able to send emails or use search engines. With more and more of our lives taking place online – from social networking, to paying bills and accessing public services – its vital that we tackle the digital divide to make sure that no one’s left behind.

Our next partnership with Free Formers is looking more broadly at how you get people to engage with the digital world through a project called ‘The Digital 10,000’. The aim is to get 10,000 people attending techjam sessions across the country where they can build their digital skills through answering fun, bite-sized digital missions set by the Free Formers team. Techjams are free and anyone can join, no matter what their digital skills ability.

Virgin Media will be a core sponsor of the project with techjams kicking off in London this October. Looking to the future, the idea is to scale the project up – from 10,000, to 100,000 to 1 million participants with new locations being added around the country every month.

But the scale of the challenge and opportunity for the UK demands a bigger response than we as a single company can provide. The Government has its role to play too. And that’s why Virgin Media is taking the lessons from all of our work in this space to Government to demonstrate how to go about delivering digital training in a way that can have real impact. We are also working to encourage the UK Government to make a real commitment to support nurturing digital skills as a central pillar of its approach to digital policy.

To find out more or join in a techjam session, visit the Free Formers website: http://www.freeformers.com/