Taking collective action to bridge the digital skills divide
Business for Inclusive Growth was launched in 2019 in connection with the G7 Summit in Biarritz, France. It is a coalition of forty major companies and organisations partnering with the OECD to fight inequalities of income and opportunities.
What do you see as the main challenges currently to vocational training and re-skilling?
There are numerous challenges, of course, and all of them are quite complex. We have decided to work on a few priority areas. I will mention two of them. The first one is transition efforts to prepare the workforce for accelerating automation. And the second is bridging the digital divide.
Many workers are now at risk of seeing their jobs automated and the crisis further accelerates automation. It is essential for business, but also for governments, that we prepare for accelerated automation and the restructuring that is necessary. And so we have to support training and positions for these workers whose jobs are at risk.
The second main challenge we're working on, and which we have a specific work stream for, is bridging the digital divide. The crisis has shown that even in developed countries, in strong digital economies, large sections of society do not have adequate access to digital infrastructure and tools and are not equipped with the right digital skills. And even after the crisis, many daily business activities will remain online, and so digital channels will remain essential. Digital skills will be more necessary than ever. We have to work on this.
How difficult has the shift to online learning and training been for those who are underemployed or unemployed and need to be reskilled, but they lack the connectivity?
This is a priority topic for us. But the topic has several dimensions we have to address. The first one, which is key, is access to digital technology, and the second is digital skills development. We created a mapping of existing initiatives of member companies to see exactly where we can take collective actions and be more impactful.
When you think of access to digital technology, there are several things private companies can do. They can offer discounted or free services or devices. They can take collective actions – specific actions for vulnerable groups. We also coordinate with governments and philanthropies.
The second dimension, of course, is digital skills development. There is nothing new, we just need to do more and to coordinate. Supporting and promoting digital skills includes working on digital literacy, intermediate digital skills, and technical digital skills.
Do you think it's important to develop new tools or formats for learning?
When we decided to work on the digital divide, we realized that most of the companies of the coalition already do something. Thus, Capgemini, Microsoft, Salesforce, Accenture, Ricoh, and several other member companies decided to take collective action to accelerate and to see how they could be more impactful together. We are now in the middle of the process of defining and finalizing the actions we are going to take collectively. We will partner with government and philanthropies to be even more impactful and reach out to more people.
Can you tell us a little bit about what kind of collective action you found will be more impactful or give an example?
We are in the middle of the process, but first, we will work on a platform promoting basic digital skills. We know that many people need help, for example, with basic online paperwork and other digital journeys. We will develop a platform to help these vulnerable people, working with NGOs.
It’s not only within this coalition. Many private companies have taken the initiative to bridge the digital divide: telecom service providers offer free discount services, many companies offer refurbished devices, and numerous companies have launched online learning platforms. It is quite impressive. The private sector has considered that it has a role and responsibility to contribute to bridging the digital divide together with philanthropies and governments.
Have you identified skills shortages in key sectors, for example, healthcare or ICT, where you're able to adapt training models to address sectoral needs for new skills?
We have decided to focus on the digital divide because technical digital skills are critical and there are shortages in the sector. Regarding other skill shortages, we work on guidelines and tools that will help companies to manage upskilling and reskilling of their workforce. We launched a workstream that is called Responsible Restructuring and works on guidelines. And a key component of these guidelines will be how to anticipate skill needs and manage upskilling and reskilling. It should be business as usual and not something that you manage when the restructuring has to be carried out.
With so many stakeholders, how do you bring them all on to the same page? For example, you're considering a platform. How do you manage that, bringing everyone together?
I will give you another example. One of the priorities of the coalition is to make essential goods and services more accessible to vulnerable people. Unilever developed a platform that offer services to SMEs. They recently launched the platform, and so made a call for volunteers within the coalition. "We have developed this platform for entrepreneurs. What kind of service could you offer?" Members could offer micro insurance, micro credit, help with accounting, et cetera.
A few member companies take the lead. It will be the same with digital skills development. There is a small group of member companies that has decided to take the lead. They will develop a platform and then will tell the other member companies and call for volunteers. It’s a very action oriented approach.