In this article, Elizabeth Anderson highlights the pressing need to equip younger generations with essential digital skills and access in today’s technology-driven world, outlining the necessary steps to achieve this goal.
Digital skills and access are crucial in today’s technology-driven world, without which young individuals may face barriers to educational opportunities, limiting their ability to acquire knowledge and keep pace with the rapidly evolving digital world.
Access to essential digital skills is becoming paramount for individuals to participate fully in society and the economy, however, a concerning reality persists in the United Kingdom, where a significant number of individuals lack the necessary digital skills, leading to digital poverty and exclusion.
In fact, research shows that around three in four youth lack the critical skills needed for employment by companies.
A report from UNICEF revealed that across 92 countries, nearly three-quarters of 15- to 24-year-olds lack the skills required to thrive in future employment opportunities, and in Europe, one in three 13-year-olds students lack basic digital skills when directly tested, according to a report from the European Commission.
Digital inclusion encompasses not only having access to digital resources but also possessing the necessary skills to navigate and participate in the digital landscape. However, it is evident that this is not applicable to a high percentage of today’s youth.
Beyond the impact on individuals, limited digital access and skills impedes the economy: SMEs rely on skilled workers to thrive in the digital economy. Without access to a pool of digitally literate individuals, businesses may struggle to innovate and achieve sustainable growth.
Through a promotion of digital inclusion and empowering our younger generation with digital skills, young people would gain access to a range of benefits. They can contribute to the growth and innovation of SMEs, fostering economic development and creating more employment opportunities.
Digital access plays a critical role in the education of the youth, particularly in light of COVID-19 which has caused a shift to increased online-learning. With this shift, access to a laptop or computer, as well as a stable internet connection, has become essential.
Furthermore, proficiency in using digital skills and platforms is vital for effective online learning – without these, students may struggle to navigate online learning platforms, collaborate with peers, or adapt to digital teaching methods. As a result, their ability to fully engage with the curriculum may be compromised.
The repercussions of limited digital access and skills and education can extend to a child’s later life, hindering their prospects for future career advancement.
Access to digital skills and resources from a young age is vital for future employment and opportunities in today’s digital economy. As the workplace continues to evolve, digital literacy has become a necessity in many industries.
Basic tech skills have become a prerequisite in many job sectors, even in traditionally non-technical fields. In fact, a record 92 per cent of businesses say that having a basic level of digital skills is important for their employees. Additionally, 88 per cent of young people (ages 16-24) believe that digital skills will be essential to their careers.
The majority of job applications are now found online and without both the resources, connection and skill needed to access them, individuals can be excluded from a large amount of job opportunities before they even apply.
Furthermore, the rise of hybrid and remote working models underline the importance of digital skills in terms of job accessibility – the ability to navigate digital tools and platforms has become essential for effective communication, collaboration and productivity.
Access to digital resources and early education in digital skills, therefore, paves the way for better job prospects and career opportunities for young individuals.
The lack of digital skills can have significant economic effects, particularly concerning organisation progress and overall economic growth. The existence of a tech skills gap means that businesses and industries will struggle to adopt and leverage technological advancements efficiently. For the UK to achieve its desired tech superpower status, it is imperative to address this skills gap.
To overcome the challenges posed by the lack of digital skills, a collaborative approach is essential. Government initiatives should focus on investing in educational programmes that promote digital literacy from an early age, ensuring that young people have access to the necessary resources.
Businesses should also play a key role in closing the skills gap, offering training and upskilling opportunities to their employees. Currently, businesses are not doing enough to tackle this issue, as almost three in five workers say that their employer has never provided them with training to improve their digital skills.
Individuals should also take an active role in their own upskilling and continuous learning. Embracing a growth mindset and seeking out opportunities to develop digital skills will not only improve employability but also contribute to the nation’s economic progress as a whole.
By fostering a collaborative effort between government, businesses, educational institutions and individuals, the UK can address the technological skills gap and provide young people with the skills and resource required to gain a proper education that will allow them to enter, and succeed in, the workplace.
Ensuring that everyone has essential digital skills is a key part of the Digital Poverty Alliance’s UK National Delivery Plan 2023. We want to hear from organisations who want to join us in developing long term and sustainable solutions to the digital skills gap – contact us here.
We must now come together to cultivate a digitally skilled workforce and positions the UK as a thriving tech superpower in the global economy.
By Elizabeth Anderson, Interim CEO of the Digital Poverty Alliance
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