Europeans say that they are getting fewer hours of digital skills training than their counterparts in Asia, setting out a challenge to employers and governments wanting to develop Gigabit Societies.

A majority of all global respondents in a new survey agreed about the importance of digital skills and lifelong learning to adapt to the introduction of new technologies, yet the degree to which they receive training varies considerably.

The survey by Ipsos of over 9,000 people across nine countries was commissioned by the Vodafone Institute for Society and Communications, a think tank that explores the potential of digital technologies for societal participation and better access to education.

Over three quarters of people in India (83%) and China (76%) get one to five or more hours of digital training at work each week, compared to fewer than half of workers in Western Europe.

Of those workers who get any digital training during working hours, less than one hour per week is most common for UK workers, with counterparts in Germany, Italy, Spain and the USA getting marginally more.

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Joakim Reiter, Chair of the Vodafone Institute, said that the situation is changing:

“Vodafone is committed to increasing the sweep of digitisation across our international business to increase efficiency and further improve customer service. To achieve that we have increased the range of our digital training in recent times and now provide everything from reverse mentoring to courses.”

At present most respondents in Europe and the United States say that their digital skills are self-taught and they may be looking away from the workplace for formal training.

In Italy - where a majority of workers feel that their country is below the average in Europe for digitisation - and Spain around four in five respondents say that they would commit one hour or more per week outside of work to train in digital skills.

Nonetheless, even more workers in China and India indicate that they are willing to learn digital skills in their free time, despite also getting more training in work hours.    

Professor Luciano Floridi from the Oxford Internet Institute warns though against making simple regional comparisons of digital societies.

“Digital societies, if mapped in terms of attitudes, do not overlap with countries. When it comes to attitudes, language and country of origins may count less than shared values, educational backgrounds, or similar financial conditions. This is a crucial lesson both for multinational innovators and for supranational policy-makers,” he said.

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Professor Floridi noted that the most optimistic in the survey were people from countries with robust GDP growth who link new digital technologies to a sense of empowerment, social mobility and achievable opportunities.

Citizens in India are the most positive about digitisation overall and Parijat Chakrabort, Executive Director and Head of Public Affairs at Ipsos, believes that is because they have seen the benefit of new technology on living standards.

“The majority of Indians did not have access to even landline phones a decade back, but they find a host of technology in their hands today. All these are making the Indians open to experiment with newer technologies,” he said.