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The Digital Divide: How Virtual Technology Can Help Close Gaps in Professional Training

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MARCH 2, 2021

CONTRIBUTOR: JACK JOHNSON

https://www.engineeringforchange.org/news/digital-divide-virtual-technology-can-help-close-gaps-professional-training/

The pandemic has changed working conditions across every sector and industry. Our homes have become places of work with social distancing restrictions forcing workers to leave the office. This has caused considerable problems when it comes to training and learning opportunities.

In April 2020, the UK Office for National Statistic recorded that 46.6 percent of people in employment did some work from home. Included in this, 86 percent of people said they did so because of the pandemic.

However, the dramatic shift to remote working only served to emphasise the inequality of strong Internet services and the digital capabilities for people living in rural or disadvantaged communities.

There have been great developments to provide internet service to all households in the UK. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of households with access to an internet connection increased by 31.5 percent. Today, only 4 percent of households do not have internet access. But this percentage still represents over 1.1 million households.

While the average cost of broadband stands at £30 per month, many people are being left behind in what is considered a digital divide.

This means that there is potential for people to miss out on the virtual learning opportunities expanding into a variety of professional sectors. Learning in the workplace is essential for personal development and to help the business grow. Technology has been a driver of innovation within these learning environments. However, more must be done to ensure that individuals and communities which have missed this digital transformation can still take advantage of these exercises.

In the LinkedIn Workplace Learning report, 94 percent of employees said that if their company invested in their career development, they would stay in that company for longer. Engaging with employees is essential for driving this retention, where virtual learning opportunities mean that access to new methods of training is expansive. Investing in the digital capabilities of their employees can also be a significant advantage to the business. Providing access to internet services and computer technology is inexpensive for businesses, but it can allow staff to learn from home, obtain higher comprehension of their work, and hone their skills more easily using digital and technological methods.

The direction of learning is heading towards the digital world. Investment in technological access is needed to help individuals and businesses develop, and the types of virtual learning opportunities that can help drive their progress.

CONFERENCE CAPABILITIES

During the remote working era, the most common form of virtual work is video conferences and meetings. Downloads of tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom spiked during the first lockdown. Google searches for ‘Microsoft Teams’ increased by 742 percent between January and March 2020 alone.

Learning in the workplace has moved online through the use of video calls to train team members. They can help maintain collaboration even in isolated home offices. However, streaming this content requires an efficient broadband connection. Video conferences only need 1.5 megabits per second for a stable connection, but speeds in some areas of the UK fall below this line.

The South of England suffers the most with internet speeds, with some areas in Surrey, London, and Exeter experiencing speeds as low as and between 0.45 and 0.12 megabits per second. Meanwhile, people in London and the South East are the most likely to work from home, according to the ONS. This suggests that homeworkers in these regions are most likely to be disadvantaged by the digital divide during the pandemic.

Investing in this technology and providing quality internet services is essential to keep up with innovating learning methods. Virtual video calls will expand into virtual conferences. Virtual reality (VR) is expected to revolutionise the working territory. The use of virtual reality training will allow isolated team members to work on collaborative efforts. VR headsets will be used to controls images, diagrams, and models, allowing employees to immerse themselves in their work. Faster internet and emphasising the importance of technology at home and in the workplace is essential for this development.

THE WORKING ENVIRONMENT

Even when workers can return to the site, digital learning experiences will be essential. Jobs within the industrial sector and factories are essential for raising people above the poverty line, and they have great potential for growth in the UK. But some working conditions can be complex and understanding the schematics of factory spaces and machinery is essential. Staff will often have to trawl through manuals, use expensive simulated equipment, or receive extensive training to even step foot on the site. Instead, virtual learning tools can create efficient and immersive training opportunities.

Real factory environments can be scanned using lasers and real images to map out the environment. This allows workers to learn the space without having to visit the site or intrude on working operations. Equally, interactive 3D models can be configured to match machinery and equipment used by a workforce. From turning valves, pressing buttons, and locating tools, VR can help with real training scenarios. While malfunctions may be uncommon in the workplace, their importance in terms of safety means they are paramount for any workplace training. Virtual simulations can replicate these malfunctions which may not be demonstrable on real equipment. Sounds, alarms, and emergency lighting can also be adapted in VR scenarios. This makes the virtual learning environment more real than viewing equipment in person.

Roles in these industries are essential for creating investment in local communities which fall behind in access to innovative technology and fast internet. Private businesses are becoming socially aware of their impact on communities. Therefore, promoting their development and training methods can help individuals and employees with their personal and professional development.

Virtual learning is essential for business development, and its potential in the future will be huge. However, as the economy steps up its technological processes and innovation, it’s important to assist parts of the country and the communities which fall behind in terms of internet access and digital capabilities. Bringing these workers into a new age of professional training is essential for their development at work and in the home.

SOURCES

https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/bulletins/coronavirusandhomeworkingintheuk/april2020
https://learning.linkedin.com/resources/workplace-learning-report
https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/111/23/8410.full.pdf
https://www.statista.com/statistics/275999/household-internet-penetration-in-great-britain/
https://www.uswitch.com/broadband/guides/uk-streets-with-slowest-broadband-speed/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jack Johnson is Senior Outreach Executive at Mediaworks.