The decision by Bank of Ireland to close over a hundred branches across its network highlights the digital divide that exists between the generations.
The migration of banks online has been a difficult transition for many people – particularly older customers, many of whom still favour face-to-face interaction.
There is a more obvious solution to the other digital divide, which exists between those with a good broadband connection and those without a dependable service.
Engineers Ireland wants to see an acceleration in the delivery of the National Broadband Plan and 5G mobile networks in line with the renewed National Development Plan.
It says the engineering profession will provide skills to develop technology and build needed infrastructure.
“Engineers can provide the physical infrastructure and make it as easy as possible to operate,” said Maurice Buckley, President of Engineers Ireland. “Engineers come in in the rollout of the National Broadband, in the design of the equipment to link to that.
“That has to interface seamlessly with the societal element of how to teach and help people use this equipment correctly. There needs to be technical support but there also needs to be learning support to build confidence in people to work in new ways.”
So many aspects of our lives are moving rapidly online which is by in large a very positive development, but it is also important that no one is left behind.
“I think we have seen that in the past couple of days with, for example, the closure of bank branches,” Mr Buckley said.
“It doesn’t cause me too much loss of sleep that the local bank branch won’t be open because I almost never go in there, but older people do.”
Engineers Ireland would like to see grants that foster digital literacy and investment in equipment.
The pandemic has shown the great potential that exists for technically enabled remote working and more balanced regional development, but it has also shown the shortcomings of the current digital and broadband infrastructure.
“Covid-19 has accelerated these societal changes with increased remote working, virtual social interaction, online shopping and banking exacerbating existing digital inequalities and accentuating the geographical digital divide in Ireland,” Mr Buckley said.
“The country must redouble its efforts to achieve a cohesive national programme for digital transformation that provides a blueprint for an orderly, equitable, secure and sustainable transition to a digital society. This must be underpinned by trusted digital platforms and fueled by data, the reusable raw material of the 21st century.”
He said Ireland could be an early adapter to the economic and societal opportunities presented by the pandemic and its aftermath.
Engineers Ireland is hosting STEPS Engineers Week 2021 – the professional body’s annual week-long celebration of the engineering sector in Ireland.