Tackling the digital divide in a changing world

By Peter Gadsdon | 17 November 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the UK’s digital divide. Lockdown nudged more businesses to look towards new technologies and overnight people became reliant on technology in a way that has never been seen before.

From booking doctor’s  appointments and grocery shopping online, to an increase in jobs across all industries requiring people to have digital skills, our lives have made an accelerated shift to digital platforms. However, not everyone has been able to benefit from this change and for a borough like Brent, ensuring those who are digitally excluded are not left behind is a key priority.

Today, one in five adults in Brent do not possess essential digital skills and 7% don’t have access to the internet at home. Since the pandemic, the number of unemployment claimants here (aged 18 to 49) has trebled.

In this changing world it’s crucial our residents possess not only the digital skills they need for everyday life and fostering connections, but skills that can help to open up new opportunities. That’s why we are working tirelessly to bridge the digital skills gap in our borough to ensure nobody is left behind.

Our Digital Strategy was created to ensure that all residents and businesses in Brent are able to access digital devices and the internet, and have the skills to use these to communicate, access essential services and benefit from the digital economy.

Working closely with Citizens Online and our local community groups, we have identified over 8,000 households in our borough that are digitally excluded. We are committed to providing every one of these households with equipment, connectivity and training by 2025.

Last month we were excited to introduce Springboard, a new online digital skills platform, that sits at the heart of our Digital Strategy. Designed by Infosys and recently launched in partnership with Brent Council, this cutting-edge, user-friendly platform is helping to train and upskill our residents.

Springboard provides access to more than 220 free courses ranging from ‘how to send an effective email’ and ‘emerging job roles’ through to ‘cyber-security’ and ‘coding’. Accreditations are provided on completion of courses, which can be proudly displayed on CVs and referenced in job applications.

Across the borough, we have six hubs that were created with one purpose in mind - to help residents who find it difficult to access the support they need through mainstream channels.

Our hubs, along with our libraries, offer free computer access with guided support from our Digital Champions. Over the next three years, we are aiming to grow our network of 50 champions to at least 500 to help support residents most in need across the borough.

Local people can also take their first steps into the digital world by enrolling on a free introduction to digital skills course at our Adult Education College, Brent Start.

And, for our business community, we have a dedicated support fund designed to provide tailored digital support and advice to smaller local businesses. This is aimed at ensuring they can benefit from using digital channels to reach customers and provide their services in new ways. We are also helping businesses establish an online presence via the new BuyBrent app.

In Brent we are well on our journey to becoming a digital borough, and our mission is clear – nobody should be left behind. Having digital skills opens up a world of opportunities and we are committed to equipping our residents with the tools, skills and confidence they need to thrive in the digital future.

The pandemic has already changed the way we interact and it looks set to have a lasting effect. Unless digital exclusion is prioritised and addressed, the most vulnerable people in our society will suffer the consequences.

Peter Gadsdon is strategic director customer and digital services at Brent LBC

@Brent_Council

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