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COMMENTARY

Is digital intelligence the answer to Globalisation 4.0 in the connected age?

THE Fourth Industrial Revolution is catapulting us towards a connected society. Improvements in the availability and delivery of communications services mean there are now more than four billion Internet users, over half the world's population.

But digital literacy and skills aren't spreading as fast as connectivity. And that increases cyber risks, widens the gender divide and creates skills shortages. For example, children living in countries with low ICT penetration are 1.3 times more likely to be involved in cyber risks than those in countries with high ICT penetration. By 2022, only 30 per cent of the digital workforce will be women and the UK alone will need an additional 500,000 workers in digital industries by 2022. In the US, of the nearly six million jobs expected to require tech skills in the future, there's a projected pool of only 3.2 million candidates.

As I talk to my peers leading multinational organisations, skills and talent shortages is one of their top concerns, no matter what industry or region they are based in. It's easy to see why. Ninety per cent of jobs will need digital skills in the next three years. And at a time when most of our organisations are undergoing digital transformation, the digital skills gap is hampering progress in 54 per cent of our organisations and is costing our economies billions.

But as a father, what really brought home to me the challenge we face was that 65 per cent of children starting school today will hold jobs in the future that don't yet exist.

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SKILLS ARE NO LONGER ENOUGH

Increasingly though, I find that digital literacy and skills are no longer enough. Young people grow up surrounded by technology, but too many have no idea how it all works - and don't fully appreciate how it will shape their future. They see it as being geeky, not relevant, too hard or even a waste of their time. If you talk to non-users of the Internet, they don't talk about not having the right skills. They talk about it not being for them.

When I look at our workforce, competencies such as data analytics and coding aren't always the initial key to getting an exciting job. One of our most promising young cybersecurity apprentices, Rachel, studied music, not coding. The skills, abilities and attitudes she learnt playing the violin are now helping her to flourish in her role in our security team.

The Coalition for Digital Intelligence calls this new requirement "digital intelligence" - not only technical skills but also abilities related to managing screen time, critical thinking and digital empathy. Singapore's Digital Readiness Blueprint highlights this with its recommendation of spelling out a set of basic digital skills for everyday activities. These skills include searching for information on the Web, making cashless payments, using messaging and digital government services, and spotting fake news and online scams.

With the skills gap forecast to quadruple between 2020 and 2030, as leaders, businesses and governments, we need to build a culture where young people see tech know-how as the new way to get ahead and make the most of technology's power to shape their lives. A culture of creative problem-solving based on digital capability. That's why I'm delighted that BT is supporting the Coalition for Digital Intelligence.

HELPING PEOPLE GET MORE FROM TECHNOLOGY

That's why we're scaling up our drive to help people get more from technology through enabling, inspiring and equipping. Enabling teachers and parents to show the way, inspiring young people to find technology relevant and interesting and equipping schools to use technology effectively.

We've focused our initial efforts on supporting primary school teachers because they play a crucial role in setting children's attitudes and aspirations. We've already trained 63,000 teachers and two million children as part of our Barefoot Computing project. Free learning materials and games encourage kids' computational thinking, helping them understand the building blocks of the digital world, such as logic, sequencing, abstraction and programming. Barefoot resources also help to develop other important digital intelligence skills like numeracy, literacy, collaboration and problem-solving.

Of course, it's not just young children. Among teenagers, much of the focus of digital skills is on staying safe. That's vital, but we also need to make the digital world more transparent and empowering. Our innovation hothousing techniques helped us come up with new ways to support kids' understanding of the commercial realities of the Internet and navigate the digital world with confidence, answering questions like how companies and YouTube stars make money online, why gaming is addictive and why they find it difficult to put their devices down.

At a time when Globalisation 4.0 needs global, digital citizens, I believe that a lack of digital intelligence is an obstacle for people and the organisations that employ them. We have to address the issue now to enable people and our organisations to succeed in the future.

  • The writer is CEO of BT Group's Global Services division.