Although young people in the UK are described as ‘digital natives’, a post-millennial term coined by U.S. author Marc Prensky in 2001, meaning that they are individuals who use technology in their everyday life, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they naturally possess the digital skills needed for employment.
And while the technology industry continues to thrive, sadly the home-grown talent pool is shrinking. Businesses are calling out for tech-savvy employees, but at present, there is a real lack of potential candidates that possess the digital skills needed to help advance a company. A recent survey by Computer Weekly suggested that 40% of people in the UK do not have the digital skills required for future employment. With 90% of jobs now requiring some form of digital skills, it’s important that necessary steps are taken to ensure current or future employees, are not only tech-savvy, but tech strong.
So, this leads us to ask the question, just how can we start to bridge the digital skills gap in the UK?
Well, we know the answer may not be so straight forward. So, suggesting something as simple as improving or increasing the presence of digital skills in the national curriculum may not benefit those who are most in need with assistance. I believe we should focus on young adults who have already left education or those already in employment but wish to top up their digital knowledge.
A real problem we face in the UK is the lack of information surrounding alternative or ‘top up’ education. This isn’t to discredit the knowledge that is learned during university degrees, but I think we’re missing the mark with a ‘one size fits all’ policy. Over the summer, we have learned that in fact, many young adults are disinterested by degrees as the recent application figures suggest.
Maybe one way to fix the digital skills gap is to highlight the alternative options in higher education such as apprenticeships and full-time or part-time courses.
Digital apprenticeships for example, can really benefit a young person as well as the company they’re working for. With a digital apprenticeship, the individual spends the majority of their time in a working environment gaining hands-on experience while having one or two days of training within a classroom. For many, this may be a better alternative to the traditional textbook approach university offers. The only other option a university offers is a placement year, but unlike apprenticeships, the time spent in the real world is often limited to a shorter period of time.
An obstacle that apprenticeships face though is that young people may be put off by the apprenticeship wage that is currently offered in many companies, potentially another area the Government needs to strengthen and improve in order to encourage individuals to take part in.
Alternatively, for those wanting to gain real industry insight and experience but are less keen on the apprenticeship route, practical full-time and part-time courses may be an option that the Government should highlight. The flexibility of part-time studying allows individuals to use courses as ‘top-ups’ in between employment or school timetables which could benefit businesses looking for external training or young adults wishing to gain extensive knowledge into an industry. In addition, these can be taken as full-time courses within a shorter timescale that provides students with specialised information needed for the industry whilst increasing digital literacy. Specialised courses such as this connect students with industry experts, and therefore can be appealing to companies as students are given first-hand, relevant experience.
Bridging the digital skills gap isn’t something that can happen overnight and is unlikely to ease with the uncertainty of Brexit looming. However, drastic changes may not be the answer to improving the digital literacy of the future workforce. Instead, it would be wise for the Government to recognise, adapt and share information about alternative education routes for young adults and those already in employment.