Social Mobility has featured very highly for many years in the pro-bono work I am involved with through my Livery Company – the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists’ (WCIT). I have had the privilege of meeting people who have experienced some amazing transitions from homelessness and drug and alcohol dependency and are now back in society, accommodation and gainful employment.
I had the great honour of being able to help a London based charity build two IT training suites to enable seriously disadvantaged people to access technology to learn new IT skills. The WCIT granted modest funding to buy the equipment and I led a pro-bono team to make the funds go as far as possible; we did so by sourcing some free equipment, including: interactive whiteboards, monitors, keyboards, mice and printers, enabling the charity to spend more of the funds on the PC hardware.
A year after the IT Suites were opened, some service users shared stories of their journeys and all, without fail, cited their newly found digital skills as being vital to their recovery. Without their devices and without access to the Internet they would not have been aware of the available services to support their journey, nor would they be able to access benefits to help them through the early stages of their recovery and they would not be making a positive contribution to society.
But, is there a proven connection between Social Mobility and Digital Inclusion or is it purely anecdotal? I often hear people blaming our industry for loss of jobs, while rarely mentioning the growing number of people employed in our industry or the skills shortages resulting in many unfilled vacancies. Nor do they acknowledge the positive impact technology has had on the majority of our lives to improve our safety, health and entertainment. I have no right to judge people, or criticise their beliefs, but I do feel very strongly that I, and everyone else working in our industry has a responsibility to help others less aware of the benefits of technology than ourselves. We have the power to help others learn digital skills and to overcome their fear of technological change.
Social Mobility is defined by Wikipedia as: the movement of individuals, families, households or other categories of people within or between social strata in a society. It is a change in social status relative to one’s current social location within a given society.
According to Washington State University:
“Digital inclusion is social inclusion in the 21st century that ensures individuals and disadvantaged groups have access to, and skills to use, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and are therefore able to participate in and benefit from today’s growing knowledge and information society.”
In the UK the NHS provide an excellent definition:
- Digital skills – being able to use digital devices.
- Connectivity – access to the internet via broadband, Wi-Fi and mobile.
- Accessibility – services designed to meet all users’ needs.
People must be socially included before they can be socially mobile, and they must be digitally included to be socially included. Digital inclusion is vitally important to social mobility and the IT industry has a very important role in support of social mobility. But, why is social mobility so important?
Social Mobility is vital to our economy, as well as society. Many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds stand no chance of moving between social strata in society as there are no ropes, bridges or signposts and there are no guides. Is it OK to leave them to their own devices and for them to be faced with a life on benefits – bearing in mind they need to be digitally included to access benefits? It is very easy to drift into anti-social behaviour and a life of serious crime when you have no other perspective on life and no apparent route out of the situation. The same is true for: people suffering from homelessness; ex-offenders when they leave prison; and to some degree, even armed services personnel when they transition from a military to a civilian career.
Every individual will have their own challenges and it often requires specialist intervention at the point of initial engagement. Help needs to be there when the service user is ready to engage. It is almost impossible for people in our world to understand all of the issues that might prevent someone from: engaging; cause them to engage erratically; or trigger them to drop out completely and return to their old life.
But that doesn’t mean we cannot help because there are plenty of opportunities for us to do so. There are many specialist charities expert at dealing with their respective service users. Needing help isn’t exclusive to people from a disadvantaged background. Old people or people working in roles under threat of automation are also at risk of falling out of society at some point in the future if they find themselves out of work. Many of us are closer to being homeless than we realise. One life event can transition us from our current life to a life on the streets. A bereavement, divorce, accident, mental health issue or a gambling, alcohol or drug addiction. None of us are immune. Food for thought!
In 2015 the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) published a report based on their Power to Create survey (click here to see report). Analysis of the survey results identified three main groups of people in terms of their experience with technological change:
Confident Creators – adept at using are technology to their best advantage and confident in embracing rapid technological change.
Held Back – see the benefits of new technology but suffer from frustrated ambition. They are using technology to learn but need help from others to learn and gain confidence in their desire to turn their ideas into reality.
Safety Firsters – they may be connected but they don’t see technology as an important part of their lives. They are blissfully unaware that they may be missing out on opportunities and putting their livelihoods and potentially their lives at risk.
The Power to Create was primarily about people becoming the architects of their own lives through the ability to develop their ideas and make them reality through technology, rather than digital inclusion per se. However, I believe the groups highlight a very important point and that it is easy to assume that because someone has and regularly uses technology, such as a smartphone, tablet, laptop or other device, it is not safe to assume they are “embracing technology”.
There is much work to be done and we can all do something to help if we so desire. There are volunteering opportunities that start from one hour of your time and some require a longer-term commitment of several hours a month over a period of one to three years or longer. These are very fulfilling engagements that range from delivering a 15 minute talk about your career and life journey, to mentoring an apprentice for the duration of their apprenticeship. There are also opportunities for coaching a member of the armed forces through their transition to a civilian career. There are also a number of initiatives that are being launched, or about to be launched, that directly tackle Social Mobility and Digital Inclusion head on.
The following are all charities and initiatives that I am involved with in some way. They all offer excellent opportunities to get involved. Volunteering can be extremely rewarding and can even become addictive. It is a chance to make a difference, a chance to give back, a chance to change someone’s life for the better.
Coram Beanstalk – recruits, trains and supports volunteers to provide one-to-one literacy support in early years settings and primary schools to children who have fallen behind with their reading. Coram Beanstalk’s volunteers transform the lives of the children they support, turning them into confident, passionate and able readers. I have included this here because being able to read is a fundamental requirement for personal development, Social Mobility and Digital Inclusion. Coram Beanstalk is also seeking volunteers to help define and implement a solution to enable them to deliver their programme remotely via video communications links to extend their reach.
Future.Now – aim to empower everyone to thrive in a digital UK. They are mobilising businesses across the UK to help people to understand the digital skills they need for life and work, inspiring them to invest time in the tech they need, and then supporting people by signposting the training they will need to match their own ambitions. Businesses can pledge their support through the Future.Now website.
Leadership Through Sports and Business (LTSB) – is a social mobility charity that prepares and supports bright young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into meaningful roles with major firms. LTSB works with Premier football clubs and leading employers in London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester to develop young people in accounting and digital apprenticeships. Every apprentice needs a mentor to support them through their apprenticeship. LTSB also requires volunteers to assist with interview and speed meeting training from time to time.
London Village Network (LVN) – provides young people, from disadvantaged backgrounds, with a network of people that is usually only afforded to middle class young people. They run workshops like “Be Your Own Boss” and they have a service called “The Power of An Hour” where volunteers provide an hour of their time to do something with individuals or groups of young people. Digital inclusion is a necessity for these young people to transition from their current NEET state to prepare them for employment, education and/or training.
Positive Transformation Initiative (PTI) – PTI founded by inspirational businessman Dan Brown and Chaired by Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Greater London, Sir Kenneth Olisa, is a new initiative launching in 2020 not a charity but it is charitable. PTI is a network of networks providing business opportunities for like-minded businesses in exchange for giving back to those in need. Doing good is good business. PTIs goal is to enable a more socially mobile society and develop a positive inclusive environment for everyone wanting to achieve more for the world around them. This applies not just to those of us today, but also for future generations of all age groups, regardless of ethnicity, gender, culture or background. In doing so, creating a higher level of competitive advantage for businesses and individuals the world over. PTI is encouraging businesses to adopt their “profit for purpose” to build funds to support charities that are doing great work on the front line.
School of Hard Knocks (SOHK) – delivers life-changing programmes across the UK. They change the lives of children and adults using rugby, boxing and strongman courses, supported by a curriculum of powerful life lessons. SOHK works with unemployed adults to find and sustain employment; and with school children at risk of exclusion to help them reengage with education.