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Following the release of the Lloyds Bank Business Digital Index last week, we spoke to two partners and panellists from the launch event to understand their perspective on addressing digital skills in the UK. Firstly, Baroness Martha Lane Fox, Doteveryone founder and Executive Chair, tells us why it’s never been more important to understand the issues faced by small business and charities. Then Stuart Chalmers, Accenture’s SME Banking Practice Lead, shares why he believes Accenture’s partnership with the Group and closing the digital skills gap is important in today’s environment.

Martha, what are some of the live issues today and why is a focus on digital skills critical?

This is a time of uncertainty for the UK economy, as we face the challenges of leaving the European Union and adapt to disruptive technologies and new models of working. A recent government report on the future of Artificial Intelligence has been explicit in its warning of displaced jobs, and of a workforce currently unskilled for the new types of jobs that will be created. So, it’s never been more important to understand the issues facing small businesses and charities across the UK.

This latest Lloyds Bank Business Digital Index is helping us all to understand not only the scale of the problem, with 38% of small businesses still lacking Basic Digital Skills, but also the kinds of barriers that people in work are facing; as a sole trader, as a volunteer at a local charity, or employee of a small business. It’s also highlighting the ways people are finding support and starting to show how we might best tackle this problem.

MLF BDI Qte on Glass

This information is vital to us because our mission [at Doteveryone] is to understand and address the new set of moral and social challenges that have arrived with the internet – to help make life fairer and simpler for everyone in the UK. We build prototypes to better understand these challenges, find partners to help scale the best solutions and use those prototypes (and the ideas behind them) to change mainstream opinion about how we can make the most of the internet.

This year we’ve been working with Lloyds Banking Group and Accenture on the Digital Connect Pilot in the boroughs of Croydon and Lewisham. We recruited and trained young people and matched them with small businesses and charities. Sharing their digital skills, they have enabled those businesses to develop and grow. Some young people have really shone, they’ve achieved amazing results.

The Business Digital Index (BDI) continues to be a benchmark piece of research in understanding how digital technology is being used by small businesses and charities. It’s vital that we continue to ask the right questions, but also act on what we know, to affect changes that improve the prosperity of our citizens and economy.

And Stuart, why is closing the digital skills gap important?

Everyone today needs digital skills. These range from the basic digital literacy required to participate in the digital economy, to the advanced skills needed to shape its future.

This is particularly true of the SMEs and charities that make up the bedrock of our economy: highlighted by this year’s BDI, just 51% of them have a website and 38% still lack even basic digital skills. For UK plc to remain competitive, employers have a key role to play in addressing this skills gap and preparing the workforce for the future.

Tell us about your partnership with Lloyds Bank

It’s been three years since Accenture partnered with Lloyds Bank on the first UK Business Digital Index (BDI).  Since then we’ve seen real growth in the digital maturity of SMEs and charities across the UK. That trend, sustained this year, is enormously heartening – particularly in light of the strengthening link we’re seeing between digital maturity and organisational success.

Stu Chalmers Qte on Glass

Like Accenture, Lloyds Bank is committed to playing a part in the bridging of the digital skills gap.  For example, the Group aims to playing a part in the bridging of the digital skills gap.  For example, the Group aims to have 20,000 colleagues signed up as Digital Champions by the end of 2017, with each colleague making a pledge to help at least two people and organisations improve their digital skills every year.  The good news is they’re well on their way to achieving this aim with over 19,000 colleagues across the UK registered so far.

Within Accenture, our focus is very much around our Corporate Citizenship programme ‘Skills to Succeed’.

Tell us more about Accenture’s ‘Skills to Succeed’ programme

At Accenture, we’re committed to playing our part. In the UK, our Corporate Citizenship programme, ‘Skills to Succeed’, addresses youth unemployment by giving young people the opportunity to build the skills they need to move into work or start their own business. By matching our own business and client experience with our technology capabilities, we’ve created innovative ways to deliver our programmes at scale.

As one of the founding members of ‘Movement to Work’, Accenture along with 200+ other employers gives young people training and work experience placements that help them progress into entry-level positions. To date, more than 50,000 placements have been delivered with over 50% of the young people successfully transitioning into work.

We recognise the digital skills gap as a primary cause of SMEs’ slow uptake of technology, something that impedes UK economic growth and productivity. So our Skills to Succeed programmes are also geared to ‘stimulate demand’, connecting SMEs and charities lacking digital capabilities to individuals with the skills their organisations need to flourish.

And finally… your closing thoughts?

Although initiatives like these can play a vital role in helping to close the digital skills gap, there’s more to do. Businesses, particularly in the tech sector, have an opportunity to take a lead in delivering better digital education to a wider audience. Collaboration will be essential, so they can create focused solutions, while finding innovative ways to scale impact.

To download a copy of the 2016 Lloyds Bank Business Digital Index, please visit the Lloyds Bank Business website.

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