The Power of Data Podcast
Episode 18: Boosting Digital Skills
Guest: Sir Peter Estlin, Former Lord Mayor of the City of London
Interviewer: Sam Tidswell-Norrish, International CMO Dun & Bradstreet
Welcome back. I'm joined today by the Lord Mayor, Peter Estlin. Welcome, Peter.
Hello, how are you
In fact I say welcome, you welcome me into Mansion House. And you are coming to the end of your term, you have two more days, including today. So, yeah, I'm very grateful that you squeezed us in. We're going to talk a little bit about a new initiative that you launched on the 10th of October called Future Now. My understanding is that, whilst the rate of change continues to exponentially grow fueled by technology, we are leaving people behind. There's a wealth gap that's only getting bigger, an opportunity gap that's getting tighter. And there's still some incredible stats, like over 11 million people, adults in the UK don't have access to the internet. Tell us a little bit about it.
So I mean, you framed it very well. I mean, the speed of change is fantastic. It's the new innovations, new technology, and that's great, and that's fueling economic growth. But as part of that development, we are moving forward rapidly and therefore the question is, is how do we continue to boost people’s skills across the whole of the UK. And largely if we look at the big stats, we've got 17.3 million people in work, whose skills are not sufficient for the next decade in terms of the skills we need to continue to boost the innovation and technology, whether it's in life sciences or energy, financial services, creative and media industries, I mean, every sector is changing. So our first challenge for want of a better word is to boost the nation's digital skills, firstly, for economic growth, but you're right at the same time, we've got about 11.9 million people who, it's not so much they don’t have physical access to the internet, in many cases they do, but they don't have the skills to get online. Whether it's to access government services, other things that we all enjoy, whether it's Netflix and things like that. So all of the services that we're digitizing, we then risk leaving people behind. So Future Now is a coalition of businesses and organizations designed to really motivate and develop a motivational campaign, to encourage us towards this construct of lifelong learning, and boosting these skills that are vital to our continued enjoyment of both life but also work.
It's such an important cause I think we need to remember that the UK has always been a nation of creatives, a nation of entrepreneurs, we've had some of the greatest from Ada Lovelace to Sir Tim Berners-Lee. And we've always punched above our weight. You're a small island with 65-70 million people and we’re the fifth largest economy on the planet. Technology can unlock even more opportunity. Digital skills will help our future generations continue to be those inventors. How do you think the UK has dealt with Brexit? And how do you think the companies that have made the UK famous are going to support the next phase of growth?
So again, can I take a step back? Because I think you frame the question really well, but it's important to sort of look at it in the context of how we have moved forward. And I mean, literally over the last 200 years. Because if you think back to the Industrial Revolution at the end of the 18th century, so the 1780s, we saw huge development in our industries, whether it was in the cotton mills and steel production, etc. That took 100 years, over 100 years, until the late 1800s, before we established basic education in this country. You wind forward then even another hundred years, we've moved into a widespread level of education, academic education, but the construct of EQ, one's emotional intelligence didn't really emerge in business until the sort of the latter part of the 20th century. But we've already progressed, we're already into the digital age. And if you think back even the last 10 years, whether it's the iPhone and the ubiquity of the internet, that's in 10 years. So, the speed of change is not now in sort of centuries, it's not really even in decades. Frankly, it's not even in years, we're now into months, as new technology emerges. And Brexit has got nothing to do with it. I mean, Brexit is a manifestation of political constructs that will be a ‘here and now’. Alright, if we look back on the 21st century, the 21st century won't be defined by Brexit, it will be defined by how we globally deal with the construct of digitization of our industries, how we deal with the environment. And therefore, what we're seeing in the UK, and we're seeing it in other countries, but we're seeing huge scales of innovation, huge scales of innovation. We're empowering people to leverage technology in ways that we've never seen. And whilst that's fantastic, and it really is fantastic, we also need to ensure that we've all got the skills to harness that technology, both in terms of enjoyment and productivity, but also from safety point of view. Because as we do digitize many of our industries, we've also got to focus on the safety and security of that infrastructure that we've created. So to my mind, as I said, it's about leveraging that innovation, but leveraging it in a way that actually benefits everybody. And that's really what I've been championing is saying yes let's push forward with the innovation and technology. Let's boost the economy from that perspective. But let's not leave people behind, let's champion those digital skills that are critical to taking everybody with us.
You talked in chronology there and talked about the 1800s. People think about technology just increasing exponentially, and they don't think about some of the drivers. It's always about human beings. And you think about the rate of population growth and the 1800s, we hit a billion people took us thousands of years to get that in the 1900s, we hit 2 billion, and by 2050, we're going to have nearly 10 billion people on this planet. You think about that human potential that is untapped if we don't educate the young. So what are some of the barriers, then, that people are facing to digital skills?
So if we look at our educational constructs, I mean, they're largely defined today through our education systems up until sort of we leave school. In some cases, yes, you may go on to university, take on over an apprenticeship, etc. But by and large, the construct of lifelong learning is actually a relatively new construct. And with that speed of change taking place we can ill afford to say that when you leave school, you're educated for life. You're not. I mean, you're educated for the next few years. And you've got some raw skills and some brilliant platform to take that further forward. So our challenge is not the scale and actually the wealth of programs that are out there to provide training and support, it's motivating people to want to take it on. So future.now as a coalition, in terms of what we've created, is businesses and other organizations coming together to help boost their employees’ skills, to boost their customer skills, and in doing so to really raise the bar on our nation’s skills. And in doing that, we take everyone with us. So it's really, back to your point, it’s finding the passions, alright? Why do people want to do it? They don't want to do it because they want to go to work. They do it because they actually enjoy doing it and a lot of it maybe comes through their personal life. You know, we do it because we want to connect with one another, maybe through Skype or something like that. We do it because we want to access some of the services, say Netflix or whatever it might be. But we also do it because actually, we're doing a job at work. And there's a fantastic story with a chap, Martin at Autoglass. You know, he was looking at all of these, this paper-based programming as he was dispatching people across the UK, to mend our windscreens. And he thought, this is ridiculous. I don't know how to develop an app. But let me go and work out how to develop an app. So he went and worked out how to develop an app, and he’s automated whole thing. Autoglass love him. He's created a new role for himself within the company and actually developing more apps. And that's what we need to inspire. We need to inspire people to take on the programs that are out there, the training that's there, to benefit themselves not only in the workplace, but in their lives as well.
I couldn't agree with you more. And I think the passion part is so important because this stuff isn't trivial. Technology gets more complicated every day. I was reading a quote from Scott Penberthy from Google who said that they believe whilst there's a million data scientists out there, there's only probably 10,000 people in the world who understand deep learning. That's the future. And if we don't create experts, we're never going to harness it. And most importantly, we're not going to do it ethically, we're not going to have the right governance wrapped around it. All you need to do is listen to Elon Musk talking about the future of AI. And there's a terrifying world out there.
That's why I’ve said, I mean for the whole year, that's why I’ve said we need to shape the future, rather than the future simply shape us. We need to take control. I know those are words that are used or misrepresented all over the place. But actually, it's helping us all to leverage the technology that's out there, but to leverage it for our own benefit. And we come back to innovation. The innovation that's most successful is innovation that's finding a need, it's meeting a need. Yes, there's also some elements of that instantaneous gratification, the ‘want’, alright, so there is some element of actually ‘I want to do that’, and it's easier doing that on an app, you know, but a lot of it, the real successful elements of it because people see a need to communicate. They see a need… it's more efficient to buy things online because they're at work and have things delivered. These are how some of the modern technologies develop. But it is then ensuring that everybody's got the skills to access that. And we, you know, we can ill afford to see people who are isolated or get anxious. We need to simplify some of the technology so that people can use it.
So let's talk about a future now and a little bit of detail. So there's some incredible firms, founding members, that have supported it, Accenture, BT, Lloyds, the City of London Corporation, obviously, and a few more. And all of these firms signed up to a series of pledges when they joined. Can you tell us a little bit about the pledges and a little bit about what they've committed to longer term?
So fundamentally, the vision for future.now is to boost the skills of the nation and to do that by motivation. Because motivation, 39% of people out there us, us all, call it 40%. 40% of us are not motivated. So part of it is unlocking that motivation. So, you're right BT, Lloyd's, Accenture, Good Things Foundation, Nominet, City of London, the sort of the founding partners together now have been joined by others like Deloitte and Asda, businesses across the UK, to look at how we can collaborate. So first and foremost, how do we partner together and perhaps leave our own individual personas to one side and focus on the greater good of the country by sharing our tools by sharing our stories and our motivation campaigns. So future.now is what we call in the business world a B2B. So a business-to-business engagement. Future.now itself can't directly engage with the customers with individuals, we just don't have the capacity. But these businesses have huge reach. And so, by looking at the reach of businesses, particularly the larger employers, those that have got large consumer footprints, the aim is to work with those businesses to say how can we help you boost your employees’ skills and your customer skills. In some cases, our partners account coming with some fantastic programs. In other cases they’re coming with some platform and some technology, in other cases, particularly in the creative and media industries, they're coming with ideas about how we motivate and share stories, because a lot of it is in the language we use. I'm a businessman, I'm an accountant, I don't always have the best language to motivate people in terms of persuading them to boost their digital skills
Don't sell yourself short!
But part of it is let's leverage the skillsets of the team. So that's really what it's all about. It's actually getting business-to-business to work together to then amplify and boost the skills of hundreds and thousands, actually millions because arguably the pool that we need to tackle this 30 odd million people.
Yeah. And what sort of government engagement have you got? The reason I ask one of my favorite initiatives – soon to be second favorite – is actually the World Wide Web Foundation. We talked about Sir Tim Berners-Lee earlier, and they have their 50/50 contract, as 50% of the world are now online; for the other 50% that gap continues to increase. It gets starker every day, and they connect businesses, with individuals, with governments around the 50/50 contract to try and create a sustainable web for everyone.
So we've been working with DCMS to have the digital skills partnership, we've been working with Department for Education, who have the essential digital skills framework, which will become a sort of a part of an essential framework in 2020. It's part of the government's proposals. Clearly, we're in an election period, so we get into a little bit of sort of a vacuum during that window. But fundamentally, you know, we've had support from government, but this isn't about one single institution tackling this. We can only tackle and help 30 plus million people if we work together. You know, the government's got a huge employee force themselves, whether it's through the NHS, whether it's through the Armed Forces, whether it's through the Civil Services there are some pools there. And certainly we're working with DCMS at the moment, maybe to be one of the first government departments to sign up to the pledge, but we've reached out to NHS Digital. It's a combination of civic societies, organizations like the Good Things Foundation, UpSkill Digital, to just all of the charities that have recognized this need, together with businesses who’ve both got the capability, but also businesses who want to upskill their employees but don't necessarily have the toolkits to do that. So it's bringing it together. And it's doing what we really do best. Actually, when we see a challenge, we come together, we come together, we leverage each other's strengths. And it's not then a question of an organization upskilling 10,000 people, it's an organization linking with 40 to 50. Other organizations, we're up to 60 or 70 organizations now, each upscaling so now you're into 10s of millions. And that's really where the scale comes. And obviously, this is a big program. It's not all going to get solved in one year. But it's a question of continuing to build that and build a framework that actually helps us into the future.
Let’s fast forward 10 years time. These questions always annoying when people ask you to forecast these things. But what's the vision? Where does future.now end up in 10 years?
My belief is that the constructs of things like a virtual library I mean, obviously, we have the internet today. But the internet is massive, you know, how do you search it? But if you have some elements like a virtual library, that future.now is that collaboration of organizations that are putting material into that library. There are others that are helping to curate it so that it makes it easy for us to access it, whether it's in different parts of the country to different sectors, different experiences, but it really is looking to continue that because the skills we need today aren't necessarily the skills we're going to need in 10 years’ time. So this is an ongoing challenge that will need to continue to be curated. But if we create the right fabric of organizations working together to do that, leveraging their own strengths, but actually partnering in a way that actually one plus one equals five, and I'm an accountant, so that works. I mean, that's what we're trying to achieve. So, you know, the vision is that it's still here in 10 years’ time. That it really is effectively anchored into the DNA of our country in a way that provides continual access and support to different communities across the country.
I wish my accountant was more like you. Let's talk about calls to action. How can other firms get involved?
So future.now and it literally is futuredotnow.uk
is where the website is, that's where you can pledge. Increasingly that's where we're creating and continuing to build on the portal for businesses to communicate. We're also hosting a number of engagements on a regular basis around the country, and individual businesses are seeking to host those in different parts, again to demonstrate that this is not a London-centric issue. This is a national issue. So I would encourage anybody interested whether you're a business or an organization who might be already providing elements of digital skills to register on future.now. It doesn't cost money, but it does require commitment in terms of how you are going to contribute to the program or benefit from it because in some cases you might be more of a taker than a giver. That's fine. But what is your commitment in how to take that forward?
We've got about 30 seconds left, you're coming to the end of an extraordinary year, what are you going to do next?
I'm not stopping and having a few days off, and then we’re getting back on the road. So I mean, clearly in the city, you will pass over to the Lord Mayor-elect tomorrow, give the Lord Mayor full support. So, I mean, I will be clearly sort of being respectful to him to ensure that he has obviously got, you know, full management of the city. But with his agreement, we're going to continue to push forward to the future now and working with businesses across the country. Because this is an important issue. It mustn't stop just because once finished one job we need to continue.
Well, the only way around this off is to offer my help. I'd love to be involved in this great initiative.
Sign up, pledge.
There we go. I think we've just got a commitment from Dun and Bradstreet live, oh dear. I look forward to it, Thank you Lord Mayor.
Thank you very much.