One of the key questions for educators, parents and companies the world over is how we get our children to innovate and create the technology of tomorrow which they’re playing, using and communicating with today.
Gavin Patterson, CEO of the company I work, highlighted this challenge as a Tech Literacy Paradox. Enabling understanding and knowledge of technology that goes beyond just the ‘screen-deep’, and an understanding of how that technology functions, and indeed how to improve it.
We currently stand at the brink of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a new cyber age where tech proficiency is an essential skill amongst a rapidly expanding workforce. In the US between 1998 and 2008 the number of jobs within the ICT sector grew by 26% - four times faster the rate of U.S employment itself. By 2018, employment in the sector is expected to leap another 22%.
Understanding this state of flux is paramount to corporates and governments to ensure future economic success. For those who embrace this the rewards are substantial – according to estimates increasing the role of ICT in the UK will create £122 billion in economic value between now and 2030.
A recent report by the World Economic Forum on the Future of Jobs concludes that disruptive labour market changes will mean 5.1 million jobs could be lost between 2015 and 2020. The same report points to the fact that not only will there be more jobs in the technology, ICT and professional services sectors, it is without a doubt that more and more jobs will have a ‘tech dimension’ to them.
There are reasons to be cheerful: shining lights of best practice which make the future bright where governments are collaborating with companies and communities to accelerate that evolution towards a highly tech literate population. Programmes like Barclays Digital Eagles which teach children aged 7-17 to code, are essential.
It is down to all of us, particularly tech companies like us, to make long-term commitments to use our skills and capabilities to help build a culture of tech literacy. This is as much about inspiration as it is about innovation. Creating reasons to ‘look beyond the screen’ and equipping everyone with the means to code, problem solve and innovate in economies where technology becomes the predominant means of production.
This will require collaboration on all fronts. Yet to ensure tech literacy can become a priority for years to come, we must ensure accessibility. Without full tech accessibility for all we fail at the first hurdle. How can we discuss confidence in this increasingly technological world when we cannot yet ensure total Wi-Fi coverage? Investment in superfast broadband and the deployment of G.fast speeds are a necessities to ensure our place in the world of tomorrow.
We not only stand to reap economic benefits from continued investment in accessibility and connectivity. Increased connectivity also allows organisations of every size, and individuals, to tackle big societal challenges, including access to healthcare and government services, both of which are increasingly moving online, and strengthening our ability to decarbonise our economies. At corporate level, teleworking tools like VoIP telephony are increasingly rendering physical travel for meetings redundant, thus enabling us to make huge reductions of CO2 emissions.
Accessibility and connectivity are two sides of the same coin that make up the foundation upon which tech literacy rests. It is fast becoming a concept that governments and corporates alike are recognising as essential to ensuring future prosperity.
This is of course a positive result – we hope support for this idea continues to accelerate as time goes on. But we cannot forget the practicalities surrounding this issue, without continued investment in improving accessibility we endanger efforts to ensure our colleagues of today, and those of tomorrow, are equipped with the tech literacy to allow them to thrive in our brave new world.
By Niall Dunne, BT's Global Chief Sustainability Officer