Rob Smedley, 40, from Edlington, is one of the models for this year’s national Get Online Week campaign, which aims to encourage the 12.6 million Brits without basic digital skills to get along to local events and see how the internet could help them save, connect, play – and work.
“If you want a job these days,” explains Rob, “you’ve got to be online. It doesn’t matter if you’re gardening, labouring, in an office or in a factory, you need some basic digital skills to search for a job, and probably to do it, too. Everything’s got an online ordering system, or reporting mechanisms, or something that needs to be done on a computer. And the Jobcentre is all digitised nowadays, too.”
Digital Skills Gap
Rob had been out of work for three long years when the Jobcentre referred him to the Edlington Hilltop Centre – a local Online Centre. “I call them the wilderness years,” explains Rob. “Because that’s what it felt like. I was pretty much at rock bottom. I’d applied for literally thousands of jobs, and heard back from less than 20. I’d done a couple of interviews, but didn’t get the jobs. I just wanted to work. My confidence was at an all time low, and I was doubting everything about myself.
“I did have some computer skills, and a CV, but they obviously weren’t doing the job for me. It literally saps your energy and lays you low. I didn’t know if I was doing the right things anymore, or looking in the right places.
“When I first walked through the door, I didn’t think anything was going to be any different – I thought I’d just be going through the motions, doing the same thing, somewhere different. But it wasn’t like that. They sat down with me, one-to-one, they listened, and they helped me.
“With their advice and guidance I dusted off and updated my old CV, brushed up on my rusty computer skills and internet etiquette, and did some mock interviews. And gradually my confidence started to grow again as I got up to speed. It was massive. Exactly what I needed, and a real turning point in my life.”
As Rob’s personality started to come out, he started to help others around him. That turned into more official volunteering at the centre, and eventually into a work placement. When a job to manage the centre’s 68 volunteers came up, Rob went for it, and got it.
“I can’t tell you what a good feeling it was to finally get a job,” says Rob, “and to get a job I really, really wanted. Now I get to do for others what the team at the Edlington Hilltop Centre did for me. This place built me back up from nothing, taught me new skills, and most importantly helped me to believe in myself again. And that’s often the most important step.
“We get people who come in here who’s skills are out of date – just like mine were – and people who literally don’t know how to turn a computer on, and don’t think they can learn. But because I’ve been there and I know they can – they just have to believe it too. Helping them to gain those new skills, offering people the opportunity to volunteer for community work and build their sense of worth and pride, that’s invaluable. And it’s also extremely rewarding.
“I’m really proud to be one of the poster people for Get Online Week, because I know how important digital skills are, and how important it is to have a helping hand when you need it. There are places like the Edlington Hilltop Centre up and down the country that can help people get to grips with computers and the internet, and there’s going to be hundreds of introductory events during Get Online Week. It’s a great opportunity to go in and see what you could learn, and how they could help you, too.”