Belfast Telegraph

Return of Stormont 'would help drive for better digital skills'

Growth opportunity: Jim McCooe
Growth opportunity: Jim McCooe
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

The head of a Lloyds Banking Group project to improve Northern Ireland's digital skills has said restoration of the Executive would be helpful for its progress.

As part of its Helping NI Prosper Plan, Lloyds wants to improve digital skills of individuals, small businesses and charities by 2020.

Jim McCooe, an ambassador for Lloyds, which includes Halifax and employs around 2,000 people here in total, said engagement with MLAs had been successful despite the absence of the Assembly.

Research by Lloyds found only 65% of people here have basic digital skills, compared to 77% in Britain.

In Belfast, 23% of people are estimated to lack basic digital skills, compared to 7% in London.

Lloyds also carries out projects in housing, corporate responsibility and education, including through its Halifax Foundation.

Mr McCooe said: "It's estimated that the digital ICT industry in Northern Ireland is set to create 13,500 jobs over the next decade.

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As part of our plan and overall commitment to communities here, we want to increase the future pool of home-grown digital talent to help meet this demand.

"We'll do this by providing the tools and skills needed to help young people prosper in a modern, digital economy."

It held an event at Stormont in February attended by 19 leaders from the digital area and MLAs. It plans a follow-up event next month.

Mr McCooe added: "Even though Stormont is mothballed, all parties were extremely constructive and courteous."

He said the event focused on three points: the need for better infrastructure, the need to give young people skills, and the need to provide leadership.

"There are still parts of Northern Ireland which are digital and internet blackspots," he said.

"People in Fermanagh tell us they are still on dial-up connections."

He said there was growth in the digital industries by private companies but that policy makers must help create the right skills.

"Clearly we would love to see Stormont back up and running and for our recommendations to get traction, that is essential," he added.

There are 2,000 staff of Lloyds Banking Group here, including at 16 branches of Halifax and at a major contact centre on Belfast's Ormeau Road.

A shift to digital skills at the centre includes the use of secure messaging and video interviewing of customers.

Belfast Telegraph