A girl looking at a laptop.


Reducing the digital skills gap for people of all ages

23 April 2021

Throughout the pandemic, Barclays’ Digital Eagles have helped to build digital confidence, improve online safety and bring essential virtual skills to those in need. Now a new programme, Digital Upskill, is reaching even more people across the UK. Stephen Hulland, Head of Propositions at Digital Eagles, shares how it is making an impact.

During the pandemic, Stephen Hulland’s team at Barclays’ Digital Eagles has continued to find new ways to help people build digital confidence and stay safe online. That includes running virtual Code Playground coding sessions for primary school children and providing digital skills training to more than 1,500 care home residents and workers, helping them stay connected to family and friends.

The national lockdowns of the last 12 months have “certainly brought a sense of urgency to our activity,” says Hulland, Head of Propositions, Digital Eagles. “On the first official working day of this year, the country went into full lockdown again and we went into action mode straight away. We accelerated all our plans, working at real pace to get programmes out into the world that we had been planning to roll out more gradually – just to get out there to help as many people as quickly as we could.”

According to the University of Cambridge, 22% of the UK population already lacked basic digital skills long before the pandemic. The issue of digital exclusion became even more evident as healthcare, education and commerce moved online, along with communicating with friends and family.

The most rewarding part of the job is definitely seeing the work we do on our side turning into something real, out in the real world.

Stephen Hulland

Head of Propositions, Digital Eagles, Barclays

Stephen Hulland, Head of Propositions, Digital Eagles, Barclays.

Stephen Hulland says the most rewarding part of his role is seeing the real-world impact of Digital Eagles programmes.

Throughout this shift, Digital Eagles initiatives have aimed to reduce the digital skills gap among those most affected, such as children and older people. Hulland cites the role of Code Playground during school closures: “Our team has done a phenomenal job,” he says. “We’ve had some incredible feedback from children who are learning new things and from parents who have been really grateful for the support.”

“Digital Eagles are there with support every day”

Now, Hulland explains, the bank’s new digital skills programme is targeting people of all ages through virtual online sessions. “Digital Upskill is really aimed at helping as many people as possible navigate the digital world competently and safely,” he says.

The Digital Upskill virtual sessions cover topics that range from cybersecurity and fraud to guides on Google Classrooms and Zoom – all of which can be booked through Barclays’ Digital Wings platform.

Hulland says: “The challenge we’ve all got at the moment is we’re stuck at home a lot of the time, whether we’re working from home or not. When you’re in a high-stress psychological state or more vulnerable, you can be more prone to making riskier decisions online. By putting as much education out there as we can, we’re hopefully doing our best to help vulnerable people. If we can help one person make a better decision that stops them getting scammed, then that’s amazing.”

A man wearing headphones, on a video call.

Digital Eagles initiatives aim to reduce the digital skills gap and improve online safety.

If we can help one person make a better decision which stops them getting scammed, then that’s amazing.

Stephen Hulland

Head of Propositions, Digital Eagles, Barclays

While the Digital Eagles have helped to tackle these issues before, Digital Upskill is designed to reach more people. “The big difference is the scale and potential reach, as we offer and advertise these sessions nationally and as they’re consistently scheduled at set times each day,” he says.

“We have a framework that we’ve put in place so that colleagues and customers across the country know that the Digital Eagles are there with that support every day.”

Real-world impact

In the future, the team plans to expand on the subjects covered in the Digital Upskill sessions – and find additional ways to “engage with children directly, to help them understand how to make better online decisions”.

For Hulland, who helped transform existing Digital Eagles content into a programme that could be delivered virtually, the highlight has been the response the team has already received from those who have used the resources to improve their digital skills.

“The most rewarding part of the job is definitely seeing the work we do on our side turning into something real, out in the real world,” he says.

“If we sit and plan a certain session, it exists in the realm of our imagination – but then we put it out into the world and we get feedback from customers about how it’s benefiting them.

“As time goes on and more and more people join these sessions,” he says, “it ultimately means they’re less likely to experience online fraud or other negative online issues. The fact that we can do that just through conference calls and presentations is quite amazing.”