Everyone deserves a seat around the digital table that is why decisive action is needed - Tim Rogers
And the digital technology industry is an increasingly vital part of the UK’s economy - with a recent government report finding that it was contributing more than £142bn per year.
Yet the barriers preventing more people from getting involved in this booming field, and taking it to even greater heights, are many. The tech industry is beset by skills shortages and a serious diversity challenge - with women still significantly underrepresented in the workforce.
The challenge facing us is not, however, just to get more people trained up for specialist roles - the Good Things Foundation’s research found that ten million people in the UK currently lack the very basic skills that are needed to simply participate in an increasingly digital world. For less advantaged members of society, even getting access to entry-level equipment and training can be a mountain to climb.
Here in West Yorkshire, we see evidence of the digital divide around us all the time. It is a divide that can have a dramatic effect on people’s lives and has the potential to contribute to an unfair society - unless we take decisive, far-reaching and targeted action.
That’s where our work with partners like Keighley College, West Yorkshire Combined Authority and universities, councils, schools and businesses across the Leeds City Region comes in. Through this, we are providing outreach programmes, workshops, industry contacts and seminars all focused on bringing more people into the tech fold.
These efforts aim to give individuals and communities the skills they need to unlock their full potential while instilling the self-belief that technology is nothing to be frightened of - and that there’s a place in it, should they want one, for them.
As a rapidly evolving sector, tech is always throwing up fresh ideas. This is what makes it so exciting - but can also present us with a whole new set of questions to work through in terms of how to, for example, regulate innovations like AI (artificial intelligence).
AI, which has the potential to bring so many benefits, poses significant potential risks too. It is one of those areas which generates a huge amount of interest among our young people and we will need their insight if we are to move forward safely in a world that is increasingly reliant on it.
I have no doubt they will rise to the challenge. On a recent visit to Keighley College, for example, the Alternative Provision learners I was there to teach about AI software and artwork showed a huge thirst to know more.
Yorkshire’s technology industry is doing well but it could be really flying. To take it to the next level we need to raise investment in the region. Increased investment would be particularly welcome in the Keighley District, where we are based. Here, retaining local talent can be a problem as skilled workers, and students, are lured elsewhere due to the promise of higher wages. More funds spent wisely in the district, to create a buzzing digital technology culture, would help us counter that.
Tim Rogers is the founder of Future Transformation.