Read our key findings from our surveys into VCSE sector digital skills needs

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted society's deep digital divide and we know that in particular this is a real challenge for VCSE sector organisations. With this in mind, VONNE is working with North East Local Infrastructure Organisations, New College Durham and the Workers' Educational Association (WEA) to develop free or low cost digital skills training for the sector, and as a starting point, we asked the sector to complete two surveys to assess need - one for individuals, and the other for VCSE leaders, to help us give us a comprehensive picture across the VCSE sector locally.

We received a good overall response from the sector. There were 171 combined responses from 78 organisations and 93 individuals, 77.5 per cent of whom were paid employees and 22.5 per cent volunteers. There was a diverse mix of respondents, with organisations ranging from small local community groups to large scale registered charities, and individuals varying from those in advocacy and community development roles to operational and financial management. However, despite the diversity of respondents, initial analysis of the data has identified a number of common findings.

Existing digital skills  

Although more than three quarters of individuals (78 per cent) use IT and digital skills all of the time in their roles, only 44 per cent rate their confidence as good and 29 per cent rate themselves as average. Similarly, 60 per cent of organisations are making the best use of digital skills some of the time and only one in five (20 per cent) are making the best use of them all of the time.

Levels of digital skills within the workforce vary greatly from poor to excellent with 40 per cent of organisations identifying that up to half their workforce have average skill levels.

Impact of Covid-19

It's widely recognised that the pandemic has increased the need for the use of digital skills, with 81 per cent of individuals seeing their current roles affected. Or organisational respondents, 73 per cent have experienced an increased need for remote working and 71 per cent an increased need to offer services and products online. With these needs only likely to increase in the future, more than three quarters (79 per cent) of organisations have highlighted an ongoing need to improve digital skills within their workforce.

Benefits of digital skills training

The majority of respondents feel that having access to digital skills training would make them more effective, with 75 per cent of individuals saying it would help them carry out their current role and 93 per cent of organisations confirming it would improve organisational effectiveness.

Barriers to training

Cost is the biggest barrier to accessing digital skills training for 55 per cent of individuals and 75 per cent of organisations. Lack of time came out as the second biggest barrier for almost half of respondents (45 per cent of individuals and 51 per cent of organisations). Although availability, timing and location also appear to present challenges to accessing training, it should not be underestimated that almost a third (30 per cent) of organisations still cite confidence as a key barrier.

Identified training needs

Not surprisingly, the training needs identified were varied and reflective of the diverse mix of respondents, but some clear demand emerged for what would generally be most useful.

Developing online products and adapting face to face services into virtual format is the top training need for both individuals (25 per cent) and organisations (39 per cent). This was followed closely by creating usable and accessible digital content ,highlighted as a need for 26 per cent of individuals and 37 per cent of organisations, whle 36 per cent of organisations recognise a need for training on how to support service users online.

Almost a third (31 per cent) of organisations and 26 per cent of individuals want training in online tools to help with remote and home working, and organisations also identify training needs in the use of social media (32 per cent) and marketing, including website creation and development (30 per cent). Meanwhile, 24 per cent of individuals say they would benefit from training in using, managing and analysing data.

Short term priorities

Over the next three to six months, both organisations (41 per cent) and individuals (23 per cent) indicated that training in developing online products and adapting face to face services into virtual format is their top priority, followed by 40 per cent of organisations and 18 per cent of individuals that highlighted online tools to help with remote and home working as a high priority.

Cyber security, staying safe and legal online was the priority for 38 per cent of organisations and 18 per cent of individuals, and 35 per cent of organisations and 18 per cent of individuals want to focus on how to support service users online.

Additionally, organisations confirmed that developing a digital strategy (37 per cent) and creating usable and accessible digital content (36 per cent) as two key priorities, while individuals said marketing (20 per cent), online tools to help with internal communication (18 per cent) and digital fundraising (18 per cent) are key priorities for them.

Training levels and qualifications

Although existing skills levels and qualifications vary considerably, the majority of individuals that completed the survey have no digital skills qualifications, with 47 per cent of individuals identifying themselves as having intermediate skills in information technology basics and 30 per cent seeing themselves as beginners in digital project management.

Similarly, the levels of training that organisations selected as being most useful were wide ranging, with 32 per cent statimg they'd prefer to pursue intermediate level training, and 23 per cent advanced level training to develop online products and adapt face to face services into virtual formats.

Of the respondents, 44 per cent indicated they'd like intermediate level training in online tools to help with remote and home working, while 20 per cent pointed to a wish for introductory level training, and 34 per cent for intermediate level training, in cyber security, and staying safe and legal online.

Finally, 22 per cent said they'd find introductory training, and 36 per cent intermediate training, most useful in how to support service users online.

Types of training

Most (60 per cent) of organisations would prefer non-accredited training to be offered. Conversely, 59 per cent of individuals would prefer accredited training, and this is something that can be explored in more detail in further consultation with respondents.

Flexibility is important with many shorter training options proving popular to respondents. 44 per cent said they'd like to see modular training, while 43 per cent prefer community learning, 41 per cent want taster courses and 39 per cent would like masterclasses.

In recognition of diverse organisational makeup, specialisms and skills, 45 per cent of organisations said they want to explore specialist provision tailored to their specific needs.

Access to training

There's a clear preference for training to be made up of a combination of online and face to face delivery, with 65 per cent of individuals and 70 per cent of organisations selecting this option.

Online training is also popular with 34 per cent of individuals and 36 per of organisations choosing this delivery method. 

Access to digital infrastructure

Overall, both individuals, including paid employees and volunteers, and organisations themselves have relatively good access to digital infrastructure, with 52 per cent of individuals and 68 per cent of organisations having access to desktop computers.

A good proportion of individuals and organisations also have the capability for remote working and learning, with 78 per cent of individuals and 90 per cent of organisations having access to laptops, 52 per cent of individuals and 46 per cent of organisations having access to tablets, and 73 per cent of individuals and 72 per cent of organisations having access to smartphones.

Connectivity is relatively good for both individuals and organisations, with 80 per cent of individuals and 89 per cent of organisations having access to Wi-Fi, and 59 per cent of individuals and 73 per cent of organisations having access to broadband. 

Digital skills training offer - design and development

The next step is to carry out further consultation with respondents, and we're in the process of contacting those who said they'd like input into the creation of an offer that reflects local need. With this in mind, we're hosting an event next week (October 20th) to open this discussion. Sign up on our events pages.

And thank you to everyone that took the time to respond.