Angela Hughes, HR Director at Insight UK

Last month, former GCHQ head, Robert Hannigan, made the claim that parents should be encouraging their children to spend more time online in order to “save the country,” as the UK fails to compete with other countries on cyber skills.

I do think wherever you are in the world, whoever you talk to, digital skills are growing in importance. It’s no surprise when you consider technology continues to transform our day-to-day lives, bringing accessibility and speed, and changing the way we relax, shop, interact, and learn. But don’t take my word for it.

In the last year alone, we’ve seen countless reports confirm this. The OECD suggests an “increasing use of digital technologies at work is raising the demand for new [digital] skills….” The White House tells us that “coursework in STEM, and specifically in areas such as computer science, will be especially relevant to work and citizenship in an increasingly AI-driven world.” And the UK Government Office for Science believes a million new people are forecasted to be required for specialist digital roles by 2023.

It’s clear we need digital skills to flourish in the future, but is that the whole picture?

We need more than digital

While Robert Hannigan was certainly making a valid point about the UK needing to do more to address the digital skills gap, many might find issue with his statement, bemoaning the time ‘wasted’ online by children these days.

Digital is undoubtedly a huge part of our future, but we can’t lose sight of other valuable skills.

Increasingly, we see the rise of robotics and artificial intelligence overtaking a number of manual jobs historically performed by humans. This generally refers to those jobs that involve repetitive tasks; activities that a machine can process at speed.

In a world where many workers will see their jobs change as a result, it is vital they have the intelligence and adaptability to work across numerous roles in their lifetime. We must therefore look at those skills that humans have to achieve this.

Real intelligence

Not to blow our own trumpet, but humans are a truly incredible species. We hold those characteristics that machines just will not match us in, at least not for a very long time. Think of our creativity, problem-solving, teamwork, communication and decision-making.

Emphasising this, the OECD points out, “problem solving is one of the key competencies humans need in a world full of changes, uncertainty and surprise.”

We must teach the future workforce to be able to acclimatise to the world around them, to process information in new environments and to come up with ideas to address those challenges they face.

This is how they will find success in multiple roles, adapting to the needs and obstacles or each situation.

These will be highly prized skills in the future and there is much work to be done to ensure young people have the right experiences to develop them.

A human touch

There are also those jobs that require the human touch. The US Bureau of Labour Statistics predicted the top fastest-growing occupations of the next ten years will be those that involve humans looking after humans – such as nurses, therapists or healthcare workers.

It’s easy to do so, but it’s clear we must not forget the importance of human connection. In a world that will be full of machine interactions – such as speaking with a customer service chatbot – we will increasingly value our human interactions whether social or professional.

Clearly, children will need more than screen time to develop the emotional intelligence and empathy to carry out such work effectively.

Finding balance

There are undoubtedly very real digital skill shortage that we can and must address in the UK, but there is a world of opportunity that sits beyond this.

Technology is always changing, and it is not enough to teach our children to be digital-savvy. We need to cultivate the desire to learn every day, and prepare the next generation to be flexible as new technologies emerge.

Parents need to encourage children to develop both technical and non-technical skills – only as balanced, well-rounded adults they will be able to lead a happy life and contribute to the country’s prosperity.

Angela Hughes, HR Director at Insight UK

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