If there’s one thing the last two years have proven, it’s that the digital divide is very real even in developed economies. Even as Europe is regaining its footing as people and businesses recover, the near future holds another big challenge that we need to confront now. According to the European Commission, nearly half the population of Europe will not have the digital skills necessary for jobs in ten years. When technology is all-pervasive in sectors ranging from agriculture to space exploration, it would be short-sighted to believe that our current approach to work, education, and skill building is adequate.
During the pandemic, it was plain that some sections of society were more affected than others. The disproportionate impact was doubly focussed on BAME communities. People were laid off and small businesses didn’t have the digital skills to survive. Options like work from home simply weren’t available to many because they did not have the requisite qualifications or infrastructure. The unforeseen circumstances revealed the cracks that had already been there - the disparity only grows wider every year. To assume this does not have a bearing on the continent’s future is to willfully disregard every signpost that points otherwise.
We have the ability to engineer solutions in days for problems we have had for centuries; we build on what we know to make leaps into what we don’t. The only bump in this road to progress is that people, communities, and workforces lack the skills to keep up. We need to reframe the conversation and rethink our policies. This is a crucial point in determining where and how far we can reach with technology.
At Infosys, we decided we could make a difference through concerted efforts directed towards individuals, communities, and entrepreneurs. Our aim is to level the playing field by bridging the digital skills gap and to give people the means to take control of their own futures. We have launched Infosys Springboard, our digital inclusion programme, in Europe to make a head start on the changes that need to be made. The three areas we have already begun initiatives under are Reskill and Rewire, Empower and Excel, and Innovate and Ignite.
We have seen through earlier recessions how economic recovery is not the same across the board. The only way to break the cycle is to introduce a new variable in the equation - the opportunity to do better. The Infosys Springboard Digital Learning Platform was developed to be the digital equaliser needed to increase digital literacy through reskilling and upskilling. The platform was created with input from our extensive partner network, academic experts, and the government in the UK. It is universally accessible to everyone for free. Digital training is available to beginner, intermediate and expert learners with periodic tests and certification. Our goal is to create tangible, measurable growth that is transparent to the community.
The biggest obstacle to going after better education or careers in low-income communities is often access to digital essentials. One laptop shared among a family is not a conducive scenario for looking for new opportunities, and especially so when a lockdown is in place and other necessities go online as well. Digital natives still fare better than their older counterparts who are sometimes unfamiliar with the technology. Empower and Excel was initiated to address these issues. Through a library system, laptops are loaned or donated. Training is also provided on how to use these devices for those who need it. Localised and often in collaboration with community initiatives like the “community boards” of Brent City Council, the programme is geared towards the grassroots in bringing about change.
Small businesses endured uncertainty, logistical difficulties, employee retention challenges, and losses during the pandemic. Automated processes or cloud-based solutions, which could have helped, are still unreachable for many because they don’t have the technical expertise or guidance in implementing them. Innovate and Ignite was envisioned to help entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life and small businesses improve their services using technology. Through the Infosys Innovation Network, entrepreneurs are connected to mentors. SMBE owners are provided training in business technologies and help with digitising processes.
These are only our first steps forward under the digital inclusion umbrella. We believe that our progress should not be impeded by historical inequities. By embracing the diversity of our world, we take the reins to a better future. The time to move ahead is now. We need to begin investing in the potential of people and opportunities should be open to all. The payoff - both economic and social - is a lot bigger in the long run. We are proud to embark on this mission.