TECH TALK: A largely unnoticed plan to send Universal Credit claimants on digital training courses has its drawbacks, writes BILL MAGEE
News of a UK Government link-up with Google was easy to miss. A low-key announcement made without fanfare, that Universal Credit claimants are to be sent on a digital training course. Attracting hardly any media coverage or comment, on paper it looks like a sound proposal.
Under the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) scheme, 9,000 potential job seekers will learn tech skills that, in theory, will make them more attractive to employers.
The claimant is referred to a designated work coach for a six-month scholarship and subsequently awarded their own “Google Career Certificate”. The job seeker signs up to train up, apparently, as a data analyst, project manager, or user experience (UX) designer. These are highly experienced specialist IT roles and therein lies a sticking point.
Of course, a fully-fledged ‘Digital Society’ should be the aim of any ambitious country to improve its global standing. Cabinet Secretary for Finance & Economy Kate Forbes addressed the EIE21 investor showcase in Edinburgh on Thursday, when she outlined the latest progress of the Scottish Technology Ecosystem Strategy, under the Logan Review.
A key driver is “Connecting Scotland”. A £26 million programme equipping more than 23,000 people with iPads and Chrome books is aimed specifically at improving digital literacy and accessibility among individuals of lower incomes or socially isolated groups, such as the elderly.
It is backed up by numerous further education options, like Glasgow Caledonian University. Its software development degree apprenticeships, 100% funded through Skills Development Scotland, come with the benefits of a job.
The contrast between Scotland’s digital efforts at ground level and the DWP scheme is stark. I sent details of the latter to one senior tech executive who hadn’t spotted the announcement. While welcoming an initiative that launches a person on their digital journey, he queried this particular plan’s practical relevance.
One just doesn’t become a data analyst/scientist overnight. “Also, they’re like hen’s teeth out there”, he said. Crucially, one would have to already possess a significant grasp of tech to complete such a course. “It smacks of something of a false promise”.
We’ve been here before. I recall in the 1980s thousands of redundant pitmen encouraged, through a Thatcher Government-led industry offshoot British Coal Enterprise, to use pay-off money to start up their own business.
Then, a BCE executive spilled the beans to the Financial Times: “Miners don’t make good entrepreneurs”. The scheme hung around for a while, finally hitting pit bottom.
A question keeps nagging away. What happens if a person really doesn’t think the Google initiative is for them, or they try but fail – will they lose the precious universal credit cash desperately needed to make ends meet?
Most aspects of social security policy are reserved matters so expect the DWP scheme to be awkwardly shoehorned into Scotland’s digital efforts. It smacks of political jiggery-pokery, even massaging the unemployment figures – with 9,000 claimants “off the books” – to make it appear more people are “working” than is actually the case? The cyber jury is out on this one.