One of the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic has been to increase the role of digital technology in areas of our lives.
This has changed the way we work, access support, attend job interviews and the skills we need for work. Having a usable device, internet access and the skills to perform basic tasks online is essential for searching and applying for a job.
Most national datasets show that the proportion of households without internet access sits around one in ten.
This figure is much higher among participants using Reed in Partnership's employment support services because the people using our services are far more likely to be from excluded or disadvantaged groups.
Analysis of our participant groups shows that just under one in three of all participants has difficulties accessing a device. This proportion was higher amongst participants on services primarily designed to support disabled people or those with health conditions.
This sudden shift into virtual settings throughout the pandemic has left many people who lack the skills or means to use digital technologies at risk of digital exclusion. IT skills for job search comes 15th out of the 89 most common barriers to work (for all our employment services since they have started). When this sample is narrowed to unemployed participants over the age of 50, this moves IT skills for job search up to the eighth most important barrier.
Set up in response to the pandemic’s significant impact on the economy, DWP's Job Entry Targeted Support (JETS) service is designed to support unemployed jobseekers back into work. Reed in Partnership provides the service in North East England, Scotland and South London.
In the North East, our Digital Inclusion Training is delivered with Blue Apple. These sessions provide participants with the knowledge and training to do complete many common digital job search tasks, including creating a LinkedIn profile, applying for roles using job search sites and building an online presence.
Angela was one of these people. When Angela joined the JETS service in November last year, she was not in paid employment and had lost all confidence in her recent job search. Her lack of understanding of systems such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom, and their use for job interviews during lockdowns, had put her off applying for jobs completely.
Joining the JETS service enabled Angela to build her confidence. She attended a digital self-confidence course which helped her feel more confident appearing on camera when using Microsoft Teams. Learning how to use the software and understanding how job interviews were conducted on them led Angela to apply for more roles which resulted in her securing a virtual interview. Angela was successful and accepted a new role.
Speaking about how her digital training helped her, Angela said:
“I was very nervous about using Microsoft Teams in the beginning, but after completing a module on video interviewing, and having regular calls with my JETS Employment Adviser via Teams, I gained a lot of confidence.
"This has really helped me to deal with talking to members of the public on a daily basis, which is what I do now in my new job!”
Digital exclusion has presented other issues for people during the pandemic, which have also impacted on their ability to find work. This means that digital exclusion cannot be seen in isolation as a barrier to searching for, finding or starting a job, as it is a barrier to getting help for so many of the other issues that jobseekers need to address and which can easily turn into a crisis.
This may include the need to pay a bill online, apply for a benefit, request help for a housing problem or get a Covid-19 test, for example. The ability to use digital means to stay in touch with loved ones during the current pandemic is also of huge importance, with our staff often seeing a deterioration in the mental health of participants.
While services like JETS can provide support to those with digital inclusion requirements it is clear that our recovery from the pandemic will require further analysis of how the digital divide can be closed to prevent further exclusion at times of crisis.