From education to employment

Teaching digital skills to young people is vital for future economic growth

Eleanor Bradley, MD for Registry and Public Benefit at Nominet

As #ALevelResults are revealed, it’s vital that we teach digital skills to young people to future proof their futures and our economic growth 

We know that COVID-19 has and will continue to transform the future of work as we know it, and at a pace we never expected. Unfortunately, it has now also had a clear effect on those who have received their A level results this year.

For thousands of students across the UK, August comes with a mixture of heightened nerves and excitement – something that has been amplified more than ever this year, with more than 35% of grades downgraded from earlier projections due to the pandemic.

Even without a pandemic, it is a tough time to make a career decision and plan for a future – in the midst of the largest recession for more than a decade, it is even more so.

Job markets are transforming as we head towards a digital society. Recent research revealed that that 65% of children entering primary school today will take up jobs that don’t yet exist. Add that to the fact that we already inhabit a world in which 82% of advertised roles require digital skills and we need to make sure we are supporting the younger generation build the skills that are needed for the future. The coronavirus crisis will only exacerbate this with our world increasingly operating in a virtual sphere.

We need to do all we can to make the future of our younger generation as bright as possible. Therefore, building on these digital skills is more important than ever, not only for those that have their A level results, but for the UK as a whole. The UK economy could lose as much as £141.5bn of GDP growth if we don’t narrow the skills gap and ensure that we are supporting the future generation to get ready for a career that will increasingly be online.

In order to do this effectively, we need to ensure collaboration between the education and the business sectors. Currently, the education system does not always align with industries and the rapidly-moving tech sector. This means that there is a lack of clear communication around the breadth of digital skills that are rapidly becoming embedded in a diverse number of job roles not directly associated with digital skills – from the fashion to food to finance.

Part of solving this problem will also come from ensuring that we are tackling the gender diversity issue within the tech sector. There is a huge pool of untapped resources, primed for the increasingly digitalised market, if we can break down the misconceptions that these skills and education choices are the preserve of men. Recent data highlights how 69% of undergraduates studying STEM subjects are male. In the tech sector today, just 17% of employees are female.

Whilst female participation in STEM subjects is on the rise, we need to make a concerted effort to encourage more women to take these subjects at school as their first step towards a career in tech. As we rebuild the economy, we must do all we can to bring about gender equality, worth upwards of £150 billion to UK GDP.

Now is a time to reflect on the progress made so far and an opportunity to consider how we encourage more young people to build upon their digital skills, especially girls. This should be a national strategy that brings together industry, education and government to deliver guidance and communication to young people who are at the start of their career journey.

We need to work together to create change – this will both benefit young people’s lives and the nation’s economy. Digital skills are now life skills and as we look to build the economy back, we need to equip our younger generation with the skills they need to enhance their futures.

Eleanor Bradley, MD for Registry and Public Benefit at Nominet

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