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“We want to empower. We want to inspire” — Helping everyone in society thrive in today’s digital world

Mon 2 Mar 2020 | Kerensa Jennings

We talk to BT’s Group Director of Digital Impact about the company’s ambitious new initiative to equip millions of Brits with digital skills

It has been clear for a number of years that those who lack the skills to navigate our digital world will either fall behind, fail to reach their potential or fall victim to online harms. As banks become more digitised, citizens will soon not be able to distribute money to their loved ones unless they are computer or app-literate. Tomorrow’s great business ideas will not blossom unless their architects can establish an online footprint. And smartphone-gazing children risk encountering a raft of dangerous content and individuals.

To help UK citizens develop the confidence and skills to flourish digitally at home and at work, BT has launched a completely free programme called BT Skills for Tomorrow. Its goal is to equip 10 million Brits, from school children, teachers and parents, to jobseekers, the elderly and most vulnerable, with the tools and knowledge they need. Ahead of her session at Cloud Expo Europe, Professor Kerensa Jennings, BT’s Group Director of Digital Impact, sat down to explain her role in the project and how BT plans to achieve its ambitious objective.

Kerensa says the programme is less about trying to foster the digital skills necessary to succeed in the world, and more about encouraging “the skills you need to thrive in the digital world”. This includes increasing confidence and demonstrating how digital tools like Whatsapp, Skype and Messenger can actually enhance human belonging by facilitating stronger connections. It’s also about safety and security:

“Getting to grips with the challenges and opportunities of the digital world includes learning how to protect your data, your home, your family and your business and discovering tips and tricks that save you time, energy and money,” she says. “This can range from researching holidays and where to eat, to claiming benefits, to booking health appointments, to accessing online tutorials.”

Digital Impact

Kerensa’s credentials speak for themselves. The best-selling author and professor was previously a TV producer and the BBC’s Head of Strategic Delivery, where her work on the BBC’s Make it Digital strategy earned her the Innovation Enterprise Chief Strategy Officer’s Best Innovation Award. She said she couldn’t pass up the opportunity of “helping 10 million people make the most of life” and that BT had the “power and magic” to deliver. “It is a trusted heritage brand and it is part of the lifeblood of our country,” she says. “The people here care about making a difference to society.”

There are countless programmes – local, regional, and national – dedicated to elevating the nation’s digital skills. If anything, BT is a little late to the party. But Kerensa explains that the company saw the need for a more holistic and comprehensive strategy:

Join Kerensa at Cloud Expo Europe, 11-12 March, ExCel London

Delivering Impact
12 March 2020
14:15 – 14:40

“We want to help drive systemic change, a movement for progress. Big business needs to step up to tackle the digital divide, and we will make more impact if we do it together,” she says. To achieve this, BT is collaborating with “fantastic” companies, charities and public agencies, and is a founding partner of future.now, an initiative exploring how businesses can work together to drive change.

Step by step

A key segment BT is targeting is small business (a fairly large one as SMEs make up 99 percent of the nation’s organisations). “They are the engine of our economy but too few are equipped to make the most of the digital marketplace,” says Kerensa. With BT’s Skills for Tomorrow, firms can take advantage of free face-to-face training with program partners, Google Digital Garage and Small Business Britain (previously Peak b) and a curated selection of free online courses are available on the programme’s online portal. These will be supplemented by new modules BT is creating on a range of topics including social media and cyber security.

Skills for Tomorrow will also accelerate the company’s existing initiatives. More than two million school children have developed digital skills through Barefoot, a program that helps primary school teachers get to grips with the computing curriculum with free resources they can use in lessons. “We plan to help at least five million children,” says Kerensa. And through work with Good Things Foundation, BT also offers computer training to the elderly and most vulnerable. 20 “Online Centres” based in community centres have been funded with plans to fund 90 by the end of the near.

For parents and guardians, a segment of the population “often under-served” when it comes to digital support, BT has collaborated with Internet Matters to “equip parents and guardians with the knowledge they need to help their children stay safe and improve their digital wellbeing”. This includes explaining the phenomenon of influencers and helping demystify the online world their children are immersed in. There’s plenty of places where parents can go to for similar information. But much like the hugely successful Talk To Frank initiative, BT wants to distil everything useful into a centralised, accessible and easy-to use hub.

Lasting change

To ensure the programme effects meaningful change, BT is going to draw on the approaches and philosophies that are driving our tech economy. The programme’s impact will be measured on a “macro and micro level” using “both quantitative and qualitative insights” and analytics where it makes sense.

“We have developed a theory of change, with a series of impact measurements and indicators which include reach, quality and value,” explains Kerensa. Agile thinking is also at the programme’s core: “We will ‘learn out loud’, share examples of what works, and continuously improve the programme in response.”

Don’t miss Kerensa’s session at Cloud Expo Europe to learn how your organisation can benefit from BT Skills for Tomorrow. “This year’s Cloud Expo Europe will be a fantastic opportunity to connect with people, learn from others, and broaden your horizons. My message would be to discover, explore and listen. It’s going to be packed with insight and inspiration.”

Experts featured:

Kerensa Jennings

Digital Impact Director

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