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Automation Digital Skills Green Technology Industry

Digital Pollution: Make Tech Green

As its Earth Day this week, Find Your Flex is doing its part on raising awareness and inciting change to make a greener world. Digital Pollution is one of the biggest contributors to global pollution right now. This may surprise some readers, when you think of the word “digital” and its many connotations, the thought of it being a cause of pollution may seem surprising. Though it shouldn’t, as this is the digital age. The digital industry is one of if not the largest industry on the planet right now, so naturally it is contributing to global pollution. So, what is digital pollution and why is it important to know about it?

What Digital Pollution Is

The digital industry has been growing for decades. Every year something physical is replaced by something digital. Once upon a time, our only way of communicating with someone far away was to write a letter. Then it takes days or weeks to be received and read by the intended recipient. Then came emails which could be read in minutes, now we have direct messages that can be read and responded to in seconds. Long ago the only way to speak to someone face to face was to meet up in person. Now we can speak to people without getting out of bed; by picking up a smart phone or laptop and using services such as FaceTime, Zoom, Skype etc. Digital has made the impossible possible over the years and that is something that especially now we are profoundly grateful for, but it comes at a price.

The Shift Project has been conducting research for several years to see the impact digital evolution is having on the climate. Its easy to forget what goes into creating digital device and services, which is why its easy to assume digital is environmentally friendly. But that assumption could not be further from the truth. CO2 emissions of ICT has grown by 450 million tons since 2013. And the energy intensity of the ICT sector is growing by 4% per year. There are many fossil fuels required to make our devices and maintain the services that we use. Its a good job the “cloud” we upload all our data to is invisible, if visible it would be a thick, grey, choking smog that we increase the size of every day. So what is the cause of all this? The same as all other forms of pollution in the world: us.

Trends + Greed = Digital Pollution

That shouldn’t come as too much of a shock. How many forms of pollution is humanity not responsible for? But in terms of Digital Pollution, what is the main cause? Again, the root cause of all forms of pollution: our greed. There is a reason greed is one of the 7 deadly sins; we’ve been killing our planet with it for centuries now. The majority of it comes down to what is new and “trending” and society’s unhealthy obsession with having the next best thing.

In some cases we even judge each other on the possessions we have. For example: if you have an older model of a phone or do not have the latest games console people judge you on your social status and these judgments can be cruel. This is especially prominent in children and teenagers; they put pressure on their parents to buy them the latest digital gadget to maintain or increase their social status. And since parents don’t want their child to be bullied, they oblige. Yet just as many adults have adopted this practice of buying the newest digital developments simply because its new and “everyone wants it”, whether they need it or not.

If it ain’t Broke, Don’t Buy a New One.

Greed and the need to stay trendy compels us to continue to buy what we do not need. Apple bring out a new model of iPhone every 24 to 48 months, right now we are up to the iPhone 12. There are people who buy the newest model of iPhone as often as possible. Even those that bought a brand new iPhone XS a little over 2 years ago buy this new version, why? Their iPhone XS is still in working order so why do they need to have the latest model? Because it has one or two new features, that in the grand scheme of things are not really necessary. And the screen is slightly clearer with a marginally better quality camera. Or the simple fact that its the newest model out there and they want to show it off and look cool.

However its not just getting the newest model available that is the problem. Once again one of the 7 deadlies; gluttony, is a contributing reason why digital pollution is prominent. Apple have a plethora of products, yet most of them do the same things. There are hundreds of people out there who own an Apple MacBook, an iPad, an iPhone and an Apple Watch. Yet almost every one of those devices can do the same thing and provide the same service as the other, with only a small number of features making them different. So why on earth does one person need each of these? If you ask, the reasons will likely be quite superficial as there is no plausible reason to buy a new digital device for something that can be done with a device you already own. And again it comes down to greed and gluttony.

So why does all this have an impact on digital pollution? Simple where do you think your old devices go when you have replaced them with newer ones? And for anyone who thinks they are being good by giving them to a family member, selling them online or giving them to a second-hand shop, I hate to burst your bubble but that makes little difference. As the phone you’re giving to someone else will be simply replacing a older device of theirs. That iPhone XR you’ve given away is likely replacing an iPhone 6 which will have to be thrown away. And it is the combination of fossil fuels used to make these devices that is having a disastrous effect on the environment.

Now consumers are not totally to blame for this. There are big companies out there who design their devices to decrease capability after a certain length of time. This then forces consumers to buy newer devices, so large corporations do need to do their part to stop this. However, if you have a perfectly functional iPhone X there’s no reason to buy an iPhone 12, none whatsoever. And if you chose to do this, you are part of a growing problem that is having disastrous consequences for the environment. If you don’t need it, do not buy it, it is as simple as that.

Netflix and… pollute?

Its not just the over consumption of digital devices that is the issue. In fact the much larger issue is the consumption of online videos. Online video, generates 60% of of world data flows and thus over 300 million tons of CO2 per year. It represents 20% of the greenhouse gas emissions of all digital devices (use and production included), and 1% of global emissions. This is largely down to the usage of streaming services such as Netflix, which makes up 34% of the 60%. This research was conducted in 2019 and taking the pandemic into account, these will likely have increased dramatically over the last year.

We use these services without thinking, they are just there. We sometimes have Netflix or NowTV on in the background while we do other things. Or perhaps spend countless hours browsing through YouTube videos just for something to do. It would be hypocritical if I did not admit to being guilty of this. I watch videos on YouTube that I am only mildly interested in and do not really care about. I have had Netflix playing in the background while I work because I like the background noise. We have become drunk on these streaming services when once again, in reality we do not need them! There are alternatives that predate these services that could lesson the impact they are having on the environment.

Many online streaming services lure in subscribers by promoting a popular series or film. Yet we don’t have to sign up to a monthly streaming service for this. If you love Game of Thrones or the Walking Dead and want to watch them, go out and by the DVD boxset. Remember DVD’s? They’re far cheaper in the long run and you can still watch them whenever you want. They also have far less of an impact on the environment than streaming services. Once again though, the service providers are equally to blame. They make some series exclusive to their service and do not make physical copies available. Yet turning back to DVDs is a change we should all consider. Once we do this companies will have no choice but to make more available to make the required sales.

What is the Solution to Digital Pollution? We don’t know.

Some edits in behaviours towards digital have been mentioned above. And these will definitely help lesson the impact Digital Pollution has and we should absolutely try to adopt these mindsets. However, they alone will not solve the problem. So what is the overall solution to this growing problem? The scary truth is we don’t know.

This is the digital age we’re living in and the fact is we have become completely dependant on digital technology. The last 13 months has proven that without a shadow of doubt. And in many way we have to be grateful in that regard. Digital devices have saved lives during this pandemic, there is no arguing that. Isolation would have meant something entirely different without the ability to communicate digitally or have access to certain online services. It has been hard enough with them, so the thought of living without them in the same manner is a terrifying thought.

But that doesn’t change the damage that this industry is doing to our planet. And the fact that there is no clear solution to stop this has to mean something. We need to come up with ways of making tech Green, so that further digitalization is sustainable. Right now it isn’t and we cannot ignore that, the facts must hit home. We have already done enough damage to the eco system throughout the centuries in one form or another. The difference is we didn’t know it then, we do now so there is no excuse. We need to make changes and develop solutions now. Make technology green and halt digital pollution in its tracks.

To hit home just how reliant society is on digital, check out this piece on the digital skills gap. And perhaps we should now ask ourselves if green tech awareness should be incorporated into these skills?

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Automation Careers Equality and Diversity Flexible Working Press Release

Find Your Flex Join The Tech Talent Charter

Who is The Tech Talent Charter?

“The Tech Talent Charter (TTC) is a non-profit organisation leading a movement to address inequality in the UK tech sector and drive inclusion and diversity in a practical and uniquely measurable way.  The TTC’s ultimate goal is that the UK tech sector becomes truly inclusive and a reflection of the society which it represents.  There are now over 500 UK employers of tech involved with the TTC and working together to drive change.

Signatories of the TTC make a number of pledges in relation to their approach to recruitment and retention. Although it is very much an employer-led initiative, the TTC is supported by the UK Government’s Digital Strategy.”

Their goal: that the UK tech sector becomes truly inclusive, reflecting the society which it represents. They focus on the how, not just the why of inclusion.

Tech Talent Charter – Diversity In Tech Report 2020

Why We’ve Joined TTC

We want to see the innovators innovate, the entrepreneurs create and organisations step up with corporate social responsibility. Our belief is that diversity and inclusion is the key to better futures for both employees and for business. We know we can play our part by driving access to flexible working and raising the profile of those employers who share our beliefs. 

We might only be a micro business but by joining forces with The TTC we are saying that everyone can make a difference. Consider that 

  • only 19% of the workforce in the tech industry are women. Yet over 50% of women surveyed by the TTC would retrain in tech given the support and opportunity. 
  • flexible working is far more likely to be sought by women or other underrepresented groups such as people with disabilities (Timewise). However our stats show men are also seeking flexible working too.
  • research commissioned by the Fawcett Society revealed that 1 in 3 working mothers lost work or hours due to childcare needs, that women were more likely than men to lose work or be burdened with childcare during the crisis, and that ethnic minority women were more likely to have concerns about losing their jobs.
  • the latest McKinsey Report on diversity reveals that businesses who embrace D&I are not only more innovative and profitable but are also attracting and retaining quality talent.

and you can see there is work to be done.

Our mission as a flexible working jobs board is to bring true flexible working roles to everyone. Regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, parental status etc. We work closely with employers who already value flexible working. We hope to bring the issue of automation and re-skilling to the forefront of their strategies. 

We believe that with the TTC and their signatories we can drive a movement for change. One that benefits all members of society regardless of which gender you were born, what your socio economic background is or which ethnic group you belong to.

Not yet a signatory? Take a look at signing up here.

Tech Talent Charter Logo

TTC CEO Debbie Forster:

The importance of greater inclusion and diversity in tech is, thankfully, no longer up for debate. Sectors and organisations now need to work together to shift the dial – and this will happen a lot quicker if we pool our successes, failures, ideas and learn from them to bring about real structural change.

In our inaugural report we stressed the importance of collaboration. One single company can’t do it alone, which is why we’re asking organisations to sign up to the Tech Talent Charter and join the movement (now approximately 500 Signatories).  Companies can also access our TTC Toolkit, a set of free resources designed to help organisations improve their inclusion and diversity”.

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Automation Digital Skills Equality and Diversity Flexible Working Industry Flexers Technology Industry

The Growing Digital Skills Gap

Back in 2019 we discussed the digital skills gap, what it is and what needs to be done to address it. We still stand by the fact that flexible working opens doors to many more talented people able to plug this gap. But what else have we learned?

Since we discussed the matter much more research has been carried out by organisations such as The Tech Talent Charter, McKinsey, World Economic Forum, Deloitte and more – find a list of all the reports we think you’ll want to read at the end of this post.

So here are a few stats to get you warmed up

  • According to recent analysis from BCS: the Chartered Institute of IT, in the last quarter of 2020 women made up only 19% of the UK IT industry.
  • Flexible working is far more likely to be sought by women or other underrepresented groups such as people with disabilities (Timewise).
  • Further research by the Gender and Behavioural Insight Team found that job adverts offering flexible working attracted 30% more applicants and boosted applications from women by 16%.
  • In a survey of working women by the Tech Talent Charter, more than half of respondents were open to a career in tech, subject to being able to obtain the relevant knowledge and skills.
  • BAME IT professionals are less likely to be in positions of responsibility than those of white ethnicity – despite on the whole being better qualified, a new study has found (Chartered Institute for IT, 2020).
  • 91% of UK employers struggled to find workers with the right skills over the last year (Deloitte, BITC 2020).
  • The percentage of organisations scaling automations was found to have doubled in the last year, making concerns surrounding re-skilling even more prevalent (Deloitte, BITC 2020).
  • Only 1 in 7 workers in roles at high risk of automation received training in the last year.
  • 8 to 9 percent of 2030 labour demand will be in new types of occupations that have not existed before (McKinsey 2017).
  • Forty-three percent of businesses surveyed indicate that they are set to reduce their workforce due to technology integration, 41% plan to expand their use of contractors for task specialised work, and 34% plan to expand their workforce due to technology integration (WEF, 2020).
  • It is estimated that by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines, while 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms (World Economic Forum, 2020).
  • On average, companies estimate that around 40% of workers will require re-skilling of six months or less and 94% of business leaders report that they expect employees to pick up new skills on the job, a sharp uptake from 65% in 2018 (World Economic Forum, 2020).

So what does this mean for the future of work?

To try and condense a multifactorial concept of ‘The Future Of Work’ into a short paragraph is difficult but here goes. The way we work has and will continue to change. Automation will see mass job loss but also create millions of jobs too. Eight to nine percent of labour demand in 2030 will be in roles that do not exist today. It is clear that education and re-skilling are key to navigating this huge change. Without the investment it needs we could see huge unemployment. Yet in parallel there will be large volumes of vacant roles requiring skills few people have learned.

So what next?

With epic amounts of data to support what the future of work looks like. We know that these issues need addressing now. Our current workforce, especially those who are more likely to suffer job loss as a result of automation need to be re-skilled in skills for the future. Ideally this needs to be done whilst employees are still in employment. Tackling the issue once these people have lost their jobs will be more difficult as the urgency to find paid employment may negate the desire to change careers or study. 

Our children are the workforce of the future and the national curriculum should reflect this. Research needs to be done on how we teach children the in demand skills of the future.

A report by Deloitte and BITC highlight the case for change saying

  • investment in reskilling by organisations appears to be lacking
  • employees most at risk of automation are not spending time reskilling.
  • and it is getting harder for organisations to hire the skills they need externally.

Who should we re-skill?

It comes as no surprise that the technology industry is lacking diversity on all levels. According to recent analysis from BCS: the Chartered Institute of IT, in the last quarter of 2020 women made up only 19% of the UK IT industry. Research commissioned by the Fawcett Society revealed that 1 in 3 working mothers lost work or hours due to childcare needs, that women were more likely than men to lose work or be burdened with childcare during the crisis, and that ethnic minority women were more likely to have concerns about losing their jobs.

You only need to look at a handful of reports over the last couple of years to see the lack of diversity.

The Tech Talent Charter surveyed working women to see what would persuade them to consider a career in tech. More than 50 percent of respondents were open to a career in tech, providing they could access the relevant knowledge and skills.

Then we need to consider those more likely to lose their jobs as a result of automation. Those in industries such as retail, manufacturing and hospitality (McKinsey, 2020).

When should we re-skill?

Time is of the essence. With Covid potentially accelerating the automation curve we need to act now. We need to avoid the costs of job loss and a prolonged, expensive recruitment process. Not to mention trying to recruit people with skills that very few have trained to do. 

We need to invest in reskilling our workforce now. It makes good business sense. Make the most of your employees now. Take the employees whose roles may be at risk from automation and ask them if they would be interested in retraining. Models for retraining and redeployment need to start now.

graphic showing option a to re-skill and redeploy workers versus redundancies and costly recruitment

How are flexible working, diversity and inclusion and the digital skills gap linked?

Our own research has shown the diversity in our own audience seeking flexible working. This is backed by Timewise who say “flexible working is far more likely to be sought by women or other underrepresented groups such as people with disabilities.”. But until flexible working is more widely accepted and valued by organisations these people, talented and brimming with potential will be unable to access the careers they desire.

Research by the Gender and Behavioural Insight Team found that job adverts offering flexible working attracted 30% more applicants and boosted applications from women by 16%. Whilst this is great news that highlights the value of flexible working, much is still to be done to ensure that flexibility offerings are not just a tick box exercise. Something our team at Find Your Flex takes very seriously.

Open up a discussion on how, where and when is the best way to do a job and you will attract more talented and diverse people into roles. The technology industry needs to be as diverse as the people it serves. There is a whole group of diverse people out there eager for a career, they just require the flexibility to access it. This untapped group of talented people could be the part of the answer to the digital skills gap.

How will Find Your Flex address the digital skills gap?

We have exciting plans for 2021 – 2022 and have something up our sleeves that we think could not only address the issue of re-skilling but also provide a green solution too. We can’t say too much now but watch this space. We’ve also just joined The Tech Talent Charter as one of their signatories. Read more about the great work they are doing here.

A list of interesting reading on the future of work, diversity in technology and responsible automation