From education to employment

The push and pull of driving youth #STEAM skills

Vivek Daga, Vice President and Country Head UK and Ireland, Cognizant

Last month saw #WorldYouthSkillsDay, run annually by the United Nations to educate the public on the importance of youth skills development.

It is a pressing concern: the UN cites that young people (15 to 24-year-olds) are three times more likely to be unemployed than other age groups and are also ‘continuously exposed to lower quality of jobs, greater labour market inequalities and longer, more insecure school to work transitions’.

Addressing such a fundamentally complex issue is not easy, but clearly needs to be tackled head on. But how?

Facing the reality

Firstly, we must acknowledge the reality of how technology is transforming the way we work. It has already transformed the way we interact with each other and our daily tasks.

New emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning continue to revolutionise and shape the future of work even further.

Young people are growing up actively using technology, but we must focus on engaging them in technology career pathways and equip them with the vocational skills needed to progress in a technology-infused world.

In the UK, we currently face a shortage of skills anchored in STEAM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics).

This disconnect starts at an early stage due to a lack of immersive approaches that give young people the hands-on experiences that engage, inform and excite them to pursue careers in STEAM.

If this is not addressed, the skills gap will continue to widen, damaging businesses across the country and affecting the entire economy.

World Youth Skills Day is a reminder that each day we need to be working with and preparing our children – the future leaders of the world – to develop the skills needed to thrive in a heavily technology-driven future.

Important roles to play

The education system has an enormous part to play, with the UK government investing £20 million into an Institute of Coding to improve digital skills throughout the country, as well as the Department of Education’s broader STEM strategy.

There are also a number of charities and not-for-profits helping drive the youth skills agenda. Two of the many examples are the STEMettes, a social enterprise that seeks to inspire and support young women in STEM careers, and the Engineering Development Trust, which offers young people active learning experiences in STEAM-related careers.

However, the businesses and organisations relying on a future workforce with STEAM skills also have a crucial role to play in the development of future talent.

This includes supporting students – starting in their early years – to consider how they can work with data and think creatively.

Through our Outreach STEAM programme in the UK, we have inspired close to 200 primary school-age children on the jobs of the future.

From encouraging them to understand new roles that might exist in the next decade to working with them to explore technologies that could become reality, our Digital Entrepreneurship Lab focuses on sharing practical advice on how to start and run a business with young women, a particular demographic that needs to be more actively supported in the STEAM space.

Pulling into STEAM every day

While all companies must attract new talent to grow and avoid stagnating, addressing this challenge involves going beyond investing in recruitment strategies.

We must look to, and inspire, younger generations, who will inherit the future workplace, industry and technological innovation.

Although World Youth Skills Day only comes around once a year, we need to be working with children every single day to spark creativity, critical thinking and collaboration.

These disciplines “pull” young people into STEAM careers by generating interest and confidence, rather than “pushing” them to cover the basics in maths and science.

Technology is already ubiquitous, but there needs to be a concerted effort across the board to encourage the next generation to explore, innovate, further develop and apply technology.

Vivek Daga, Vice President and Country Head UK and Ireland, Cognizant

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