From education to employment

Youth Tech Skills can Help Solve the UK Digital Skills Crisis

Sir James Everard, Former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander for NATO

World Youth Skills Day, recently celebrated on the 15th of July, shone a light on the next generation of digitally proficient people, who hold the keys to solving the digital skills crisis in the UK, but also highlighted that there is a lot of work to be done in this area.

Digital skills are vital across all industries, many of which rely on technology for everyday success. Maximising technology means maximising capabilities which are vital for day-to-day activities and for businesses and industries to grow.

Yet despite that, digital skills amongst younger generations are seemingly undervalued. Why do we struggle with removing barriers and creating new opportunities?

The youth skills issue in numbers

The challenge that young people face when breaking into the job market, in technology-based roles in particular, is stark. In the UK, between January and March 2022, some 438,000 young people, aged 16-24 were unemployed – 77,000 of which were unemployed for over 12-months.

Young people are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than older adults, as well as being exposed to labour market inequalities and longer, more insecure school-to-work transitions.

This has all happened at a time when post-Pandemic tech vacancies have grown by 191 per cent and make up a higher proportion of all jobs available in the UK, with more than 64,000 vacancies.

Our existing system has and is continuing to fail the potential and needs of young people, who are more than capable of helping to solve the digital skills crisis and job shortages.

The potential of youth

There is no question that the youth of today are digital proficient. For example, WithYouWithMe recently analysed the aptitude testing results of over 600 15 to 25-year-olds, revealing that 80 per cent of young people have an ‘above average’ aptitude for tech skills.

This includes core attributes such as pattern recognition and abstract reasoning which are vital for a number of tech related roles.

Young people are often overlooked for entry-level roles by employees as they are perceived to lack experience or sufficient education, but that way of thinking immediately shuts down a vast talent pool of potential staff.

By switching to an aptitude-based approach, for example, organisations can identify individuals with suitable skills for tech roles and then train them up to be proficient.

The road to solving the digital skills crisis

The route to solving the digital skills crisis requires a willingness to adapt and recognise our failures of the past.

It is clear that traditional approaches to training and hiring are no longer sufficient, and organisations need to adapt to a new way of thinking and utilise new methods, such as aptitude testing.

Solving the crisis also requires strong leadership and management. If people are made to feel empowered, they are far more likely to have a positive impact on a situation, which can prove critical for a growing business. Young people are the perfect candidates for this due to their willingness to learn.

But it is not just youth who have a major part to play, it is also military veterans, neurodivergent individuals and other under-employed and unemployed groups who are constantly overlooked for tech roles. Through proper training, all of these groups, who have an aptitude for tech skills, can become proficient in digital skills.

The UK needs to modernise the way we recruit, upskill and retain our workforces. This will centre around disrupting traditional approaches and seeking out the under-utilised talent pools we have – including our youth.

World Youth Skills Day serves to highlight the digital skills that the younger generations have to offer, but once again it has served as a reminder that collectively we are not doing enough to champion the tech skills of our youth.

By Sir James Everard, Former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander for NATO

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