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Lord Mayor: don’t leave anyone behind in digital age

In his final article for London Accountant, Peter Estlin, the Lord Mayor, looks back over the past year at how his “Shaping Tomorrow’s City for Today” initiative has focused on the digital skills gap.

Peter Estlin

November 2019

As I come to the end of my term as Lord Mayor of the City of London, it is a good moment to reflect on the past year.

In that time, I have had the great honour of serving as an international ambassador for the City, leading innovative firms overseas to key markets and showcasing the UK’s financial and professional services industry.

While this has been a period of Brexit uncertainty, my message has been received positively in 25 countries across six continents. London’s long-term fundamentals remain strong and we remain a top global destination for foreign investment, including in fast growing areas such as fintech and green finance.

But one important aspect of my Mayoralty looks at a challenge closer to home. My ‘Shaping Tomorrow’s City Today’ agenda has been focusing minds on a key domestic challenge: the UK’s digital skills gap.

The digital skills gap

This is already costing the UK economy an estimated £63bn of economic growth per year. There are stark consequences for our future prosperity if we do not act.

More than 11m adults in the UK currently lack the digital skills needed to communicate and solve problems online. Three-quarters of these ‘offline’ adults say that nothing could motivate them to change.

In spite of the scale of the challenge, there isn’t a shortage of training initiatives available. We identified more than 200 digital skills initiatives across the UK. The real problem is that digital skills has an image problem.

That is why I launched the future.now coalition at Mansion House last month. This new coalition of leading companies, education providers and charities is working with government to help people harness the full spectrum of opportunities afforded to them in a digital UK.

The coalition is backed by commitments from more than 20 members, including our six founding partners: Accenture, BT, City of London Corporation, Good Things Foundation, Lloyds Banking Group, and Nominet.

Utilising the vast networks and reach of the creative, financial and tech powerhouses involved, future.now will help to shift perceptions of digital skills for the better, as well as map the need for digital skills nationwide and the resources available.

This is long overdue. In the UK today, a staggering 53 per cent of UK employees do not have the essential digital skills required for the modern workplace. Through future.now, we are calling on businesses to make a pledge to prepare their workforces for smarter jobs, and to motivate their customers to improve their digital intelligence.

After all, technology is now a fundamental part of our economy and all our everyday lives. If we are to thrive in this digital age, it is our shared responsibility to ensure that no one is left behind by the pace of change.

Peter Estlin is 691st Lord Mayor of the City of London, an ICAEW Chartered Accountant and member of the London Society of Chartered Accountants.

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