If the UK is to properly prepare the next generation for the jobs of the future, businesses need to step in and help nurture the digital skills they need.
The future is digital, but is UK industry doing enough to make sure young people are equipped for it? Probably not. We’re certainly falling short on enabling people who’re interested in learning digital skills, according to a new study from innovation charity Nesta. More than 80% of young people said they were interested in making things with digital tools, but half of them have very little opportunity to do so.
“Far too few young people have regular opportunities to engage in digital making. Half of those we questioned make things less than once a week, or never,” Nesta concluded in its report. As of last year, there were only 130,000 face-to-face places offered by the organisations identified by Nesta: “These organisations are doing a terrific job, but their impact is currently limited.”.
Plugging this gap is also important because a big concern is that 35% of UK jobs could be lost over the next 20 years, according to a report by the Lords Select Committee. As automation and digital processes take over, schools need to teach digital literacy as a core subject, the report recommended. If not, the risk is pupils leaving schools unprepared for jobs that could be available.
Coding has been given priority, and it is a major part of digital training, but approaching tasks with a digital mindset extends beyond just knowing how the technical side of things work. “What children learn through this process [of digital making] may contribute to a skillset for future employment in a technology-related job, but these skills will also lend themselves to creative roles, which our research found is likely to become increasingly important,” found Nesta.
Schools and parents are essential if the UK is to encourage and enable young people to develop their digital skills, but businesses need to get involved if they’re to truly make up the shortfall. Large corporations like Google, Intel and Facebook admittedly have made good efforts to provide digital skills for the next generation. Notable initiatives such as the Samsung Digital Academies, the Barclays Code Playground, and the Think Big Schools programme from O2, which has a digital-making initiative, are all great examples of how businesses can nurture a new generation.
There are also smaller companies establishing themselves as digital skills trainers, often providing the service as a side project to their day-to-day operations. Roundhouse takes an experimental approach to encouraging digital making, focusing on coding, films, radio and digital instruments. Courses for people aged 11 to 25 years include include web design, film post production, DJing and radio production.
Some are also using the demand for training to help young people get into digital. For every person trained for a paying client, digital transformation company Freeformers will train people for free. Freeformers co-founder Emma Cerrone explains: “We have [also] trained young people as part of LifeSkills and Upload_live digital festivals for 16 to 25 year olds. This is about giving those who would otherwise get left behind the confidence to get involved in the digital economy.” Interestingly, Freeformers is also looking to bring the digital world to the older generation, with a “tea and teach” initiative for seniors.
In Scotland, Computing at Schools Scotland works with teachers to promote digital as a skill which is not just relevant for future software engineers, but for everyone. Through the initiative, young people are taught disciplines such as 3D printing, Arduino, processing, Scratch, animation and mobile app making. In the North-West, MadLab provides a community space for people to come and have fun making electronic gadgets.
Decoded, a global training company, has a simple ideal. It wants nothing short of spreading “digital enlightenment”: “Back in 2011, we set up Decoded with a belief that everyone should learn code.” states the website. “Not just because the world needs more developers – but because we need a workforce that feels empowered and comfortable engaging with the technology that is shaping the way we communicate and do business in the 21st century.”
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