Webb: Business must tackle threat of ‘digital exclusion’

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Businesses and government must be careful not to exclude older or less technologically-savvy workers, pensions minister Steve Webb has said.

Speaking at HR Most Influential partner Ceridian’s annual conference, Webb said he viewed the advance of technology as both “an opportunity and a threat”. He said while automation is great for driving efficiency, there is a threat of “digital exclusion”.

He added that this is a particular issue for mothers, who may lose touch with new technology while on maternity leave.

“Technology is an express train and [women returning to work] can find the train has left the station,” he said. “There’s a need for women to keep in touch with employers and technology when they leave the labour market so they can come back.”

Webb added that the government is planning to use technology to enable savers to view all their pensions savings in one place. He pledged that people would be able to access these integrated digital pension records within two years.

“The challenge is to have pensions in one place so people can see everything and engage with it,” he said.

Also speaking at the event was M&S HR director Tanith Dodge. She revealed that when M&S first started automating many of its processes two years ago, it found one in five members of staff had never used a computer.

“That required a massive step change in learning and building confidence,” she said. “Too often organisations look at these things like they're IT projects. They are not IT projects – they are massive behavioural change programmes.”

She revealed that M&S is using reverse mentoring to help its older employees get to grips with technology, taught by their younger colleagues.

Dodge added that 29,000 M&S employees are now using the enterprise social network Yammer, creating 60,000 posts per week. She said that “transparency of information” creates an additional challenge for HR, as employees find things out “quicker than we can communicate it”.

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