By Martin McFadyen, Head of Public Sector, Virgin Media Business (Direct)
Last month, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) ran its Digitober awareness campaign, and we’ve been working closely with them to address digital exclusion. It’s important to consider the work that is underway in the region and what we can learn from this in order to help address similar challenges being faced across the country. The pandemic has exacerbated problems of inequality in Manchester specifically. Around 200,000 local residents are classed as digitally excluded – which could slow down the city’s recovery. It was a reminder that businesses can step up and provide the digital resources that help communities rebound.
Here are three steps the private sector can take to address digital exclusion.
- Bring people together
Businesses can directly support their community by donating goods and upgrading local technology.
1.9 million households in the UK still don’t have access to the Internet and are unable to learn the digital skills we often take for granted. The Good Things Foundation found that providing everyone in the UK with essential digital skills by 2028, would generate £21.9 billion – a return of £15 for every £1 invested. Businesses can back initiatives like the Digital Blueprint for Greater Manchester, which aims to get everyone in the region online. It will give underprivileged people access to public services and the skills training they need to thrive.
Meanwhile, the Greater Manchester Technology Fund, supported by the private sector, is sending hundreds of hardware packs to schools in the area. It’s helping vulnerable children get online and access educational materials – providing them with the tools needed to reach their full potential.
- Create life-changing opportunities
Apprenticeships help young people begin careers in technology. They provide practical training that improve digital skills, employability, and earnings potential. Apprenticeships also help businesses: the Government is offering hiring incentives worth up to £2,000 for businesses taking on apprentices under the age of 25. Some companies have already agreed technology apprenticeship targets with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), and these will help the area recover from Coivd-19 faster – giving residents access to innovative programmes to hone their skills.
- Realise the power of volunteering
Since the pandemic struck, direct action and mutual aid schemes have been vital in keeping communities going during lockdown. Last year, volunteers contributed 18 million hours of work to community businesses, generating billions for the economy. Volunteers often report improved mental health while learning new skills, according to SANE. It’s important that businesses continue to run initiatives that encourage volunteering and improving digital skills in Manchester.
Drive the regional rebound
Digital skills will be vital to Greater Manchester’s long-term recovery. Businesses have a pivotal role to play in helping the community bounce back.