Supporting Digital Skills for union members


Doing the weekly shop, booking a doctor’s appointment or WhatsApping our children– many of us take for granted our growing use and reliance on digital technology and its role in our work and personal lives. But according to the Lloyds Bank Consumer Digital index 11.9 million people (22 per cent of the UK population) lack the full set of digital skills needed to get by in day to day life.

Within that number it’s estimated that over 5 million people lacking the full set of basic digital skills are working adults, which, with the rise of digitisation and automation in the workplace puts in jeopardy the ability of some people to be able to get on at work, as key aspects of their roles or whole industries themselves emerge or change.

At UNISON we want to support as many of our members in public services as possible grow their digital skills and digital confidence. Through the Inclusive Learning Fund we’ve launched our Digital Champions project setting up peer to peer digital learning and support in the workplace. Using Digital Unite’s Digital Champions Network resources, our Digital Champions have supported colleagues in the workplace on a 1:2:1 basis to support them to develop their digital skills and at Blackpool Hospital, our ULR has designed and delivered a ‘Computers for Beginners’ six week course to outsourced staff.

In Liverpool and Newcastle our ULRs regularly run all kinds of digital skills workshops and activities in our Learning Centres which provide a dedicated space for members and non members to access learning opportunities.

We’ve also been creating digital learning surveys that our reps can print off and take into workplaces  that not just focus on key workplace activities and but also some of the elements of the governments Essential Digital Skills Framework.

There is an estimated 90 per cent of jobs across the EU that currently require some level of basic digital skills and households in the lowest income bands in the UK around 30 per cent less likely to hold the full set of the essential digital skills needed to participate in this changing digital landscape. Outside of work the rise of digital services across healthcare, banking and in civil society, alongside its role in how we engage with friends and family and form our social connections, runs the risk of further excluding or isolating people who aren’t supported to grow their digital skills or digital confidence. 

We’ve heard stories of workers not having seen their payslip for the past few months as their payslips have been digitised and they’ve not been given the adequate in work support to navigate their new in work systems.  We’ve also seen how frontline library staff in some councils have had the role of Digital Champion embedded into their job as whole council services have become completely digitised and the local library has become a one stop shop for members of the public with low digital skills to access local government services.

It’s clear that unions have a big role to play in closing the digital divide in the UK as low digital skills in the workforce doesn’t just present an economic problem but a real issue around social justice and inclusion.

Profile picture for user Katie Shaw

Katie Shaw

Katie Shaw is National Learning and Development Organiser with UNISON Learning and currently focusing on the Digital Champions project.