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Why businesses need to engage with the younger generation to bridge the digital skills gap

Most employers assume that all young people are ‘digital natives’ and therefore inherently possess the skills needed in the workplace, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In order to prepare this generation for the reality of business, we need to invest in their skills now.

14th Apr 2020
Head of Public Benefit Nominet
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Group of young teenagers students using smartphone on a school break
iStock/LeoPatrizi

With kids growing up surrounded by screens, iPads, smartphones, you would be forgiven for thinking that young people are completely confident in the digital world. Despite this, the younger generation is lacking skills that prepare them for the job market. With more people working in growing sectors like machine learning, digital transformation and AI then ever before, we need to focus on these areas and stop teaching skills relevant for the analogue age at schools. 

According to Accenture, the UK economy could lose as much as £141.5 billion of GDP growth if this issue continues over the next ten years.

The assumption that because young people are ‘growing up digital’ they will naturally have the required professional skills and competencies is dangerous.  

We need to pivot our focus to the younger generation and prepare them for the workforce. After all, they will be the ones who end up shaping it. In order to do this, companies need to start looking at ways they can help close the gap between what they require as a company and what young people can offer. Before we can close the skills gap, however, we need to understand it.

What is the digital skills gap?

Put simply, the digital skills gap is the term used to describe the gap between those in education/entering the job market and the skills required for the job. According to Digital Motivations 12.6 million of the adult population lack digital skills. Couple this with a recent CBI survey showing that almost half of young people believe that their education has not prepared them for work, you can start to see how the digital skills gap has been formed.

Recently the EU Commissioner for the Digital Economy, Mariya Gabriel, noted that after 2020, 90% of the jobs will require digital skills, and the World Economic Forum stated that more than 65% of children entering primary school now will one day work in jobs that don’t yet exist.    

More needs to be done to help close the gap – it’s already clear that we’re not solving this problem fast enough. The assumption that because young people are ‘growing up digital’ they will naturally have the required professional skills and competencies is dangerous.  

What can companies do?

Whilst work needs to be done, the digital skills gap also creates an opportunity for companies to properly invest in and understand young people. In order to survive today, businesses need to continually invest in their workers’ skills to remain competitive in the ever-changing digital landscape. Attracting and retaining talent can often be a challenge for companies, but there are a few key things that can help.  

Employers and young people need direction and collaboration in order to close the gap. Neither can do it alone

The solution must look at bridging the gap between employers and young people. Companies need to look at partnering with organisations that work with younger generations to create mutually beneficial relationships. Organisations must collaborate with young people to understand what motivates them. Equally, it’s important for the younger generation to have a chance to talk to employers and understand what skills they are going to need in order to break into the job market. We are in a unique era where most employers began their working lives in an analogue world, but where the incoming workforce knows only digital as a reality.

Future of work

How should companies and the younger generation collaborate?

There are a number of programmes that can work to close the gap between organisations and younger generation. Outdated training hubs and education centres are struggling to provide the solutions. It's important for organisations to work at breaking down barriers and take time to understand the best approach to ensure younger generations want to develop the digital skills we need for our economy to thrive.

Programmes such as This Is How, a digital learning platform and podcast, that aims to spark a curiosity in young people about the breadth of opportunities available to them, is an example of how organisations can work together and engage younger generations.

Delivery of the training is also really important. According to the Accenture report, most of the skills we need for the future workplace need to be taught with a hands-on and practical approach, meaning that there is also an opportunity for companies to structure internship programmes differently.  

There is no completely correct way to do this, but it starts with listening and understanding better. Dated digital skills training does not encourage the development of budding computer scientists or deep tech experts, for example. Right now we are facing a situation where educators are trying to motivate young people to learn ‘digital skills’ but young people don’t know what that means or how it will be useful, and employers are worried that no one entering the job market will have those skills. We can’t continue to tell young people to ‘eat their greens’ in this area. Instead, we should explore ways to excite and engage young people to find their passions for a varied and rewarding digital career. 

Employers and young people need direction and collaboration in order to close the gap. Neither can do it alone, which is why we have to work together to build a vibrant digital future that keeps businesses relevant and people employed.

Interested in this topic? Read Skills gap: how to futureproof your workforce through learning.

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By jludike
18th Apr 2020 11:44

Few more specific examples re which digital skills for what occupations, functions or roles might be constructive as very general description and duplication bordering rhetoric (sorry) of what is already known.

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