From education to employment

Digital skills on the agenda

Richard French is director of education policy at BCS

Following the recent announcement by Matthew Hancock that the Government intends to consult on its proposal to launch a traineeships programme, Richard French, Director of Education Policy at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, argues that digital skills are as important as numeracy and literacy in the preparation for work.

With more than a million young people in England not in education, employment or training (Neet) in the three months to September 2012, the proposed traineeships programme which is funded by the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, is a fantastic step in the right direction for young people who find it difficult to secure work. In the current economic climate competition for jobs is already incredibly tight, but trying to enter the market without any experience or appropriate skills can make it even harder, if not impossible.

The proposed scheme, for 16 to 24 year-olds, appears to offer young people the opportunity to prepare for the world of apprenticeships and employment through a balanced portfolio of relevant skills that employers require. Those on the programme will be offered work experience, lessons in English and maths, CV-writing tips and advice on how to prepare for an interview. The traineeships are expected to last about six months, and could be in place by September.

All of which is very important, however, as the Chartered Institute for IT, we would also propose that the programme should offer young people the opportunity to either develop or improve their digital skills.

The Traineeship programme has been launched for consultation following complaints from business leaders about poor skills levels. This is hardly surprising, every role needs literacy and numeracy, however, more often than not, these skills have to be applied through technology whether in the form of managing data, creating emails, managing stock through mobile devices or serving customers through sophisticated point of sale technology systems.

In fact, over 77% of jobs require people to use technology. There is simply no escaping the fact that technology devices are all around us in the workplace. Having the aptitude and basic skills to work effectively utilising technology is very definitely a bonus when applying for a role.  Equally employers have much to gain from a workforce that is appropriately skilled for the 21st century workplace and this must include digital skills within a progressive training scheme such as ‘Traineeships.’

We assume that young people are born digitally savvy these days. However, this isn’t necessarily true and for those who are adept at using devices, there is still a strong need for them to learn how to apply their knowledge in a workplace setting. Mobile and touch screen technology is changing the way that many people are working and allowing businesses the opportunity to develop in new ways. Having employees who can walk into a role and have a real understanding of how to use a system or apply technology is a real bonus for any employer.

However, the argument for ensuring that our young people are digitally savvy goes beyond the workplace. We live in a digital society where information and technology are at the heart of almost everything we do. To fully take advantage of the benefits of our digital world you need to be able to operate within it. Whether it is taxing a car, shopping, checking what’s on at the local cinema or even finding a job, online is now the way to go.

The Government recognised this when they launched their original Race Online campaign. There are some 9 million people who have never been online and are therefore potentially missing out on the benefits. In the Booz & Co report ‘This is for Everyone – The Case For Universal Digitisation’ it clearly highlights the requirement for digital skills: ‘this means reaching out to individuals and organisations that are not online to ensure they have easy access to digital technologies, are aware of the benefits of being online, and have the basic digital literacy skills needed to engage with the digital world.’

The potential traineeship model goes a long way to ensuring young people are trained to a level that will provide necessary skills to employers and will enhance sustainable employment opportunities, but we all now need to consult and ensure that the scheme truly delivers and helps young people gain the right skills for today’s society.

Richard French is director of education policy at BCS, the professional body for those working in IT

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