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Digital skills shortage: employers must educate the next generation

Sebastian Kerridge | 17 June 2021

As the UK takes its final step out of COVID restrictions, there’s no doubt that the world of work has changed forever. We’ve made rapid advances in digitising many aspects of our working life, and employers are telling us that digital qualifications are the skills they’re most looking for.

But a report by The Learning and Work Institute has highlighted that since 2015, students selecting IT based subjects for their GCSEs have decreased by 40%.

In an article released in March by the BBC, Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann of WorldSkills UK suggested several reasons for this growing shortage, including a lack of clearly defined job roles, a lack of guidance on career paths, and difficulty making digital professions seem attractive career choices to young people.

The current generation have grown up digital natives – exposed to smartphones, gaming consoles, and on-demand streaming almost from birth. But their exposure to the digital world is focussed around household brands and global organisations, and their expectations of what to expect when entering the workforce is skewed. Many assume that they don’t need a qualification or specific digital skills training because they’ve been using technology all their lives, when in fact the opposite is often true.

When it comes to educating students about the qualifications they will need for the future, there must be an onus on hiring organisations to collaborate more effectively with educational institutions. If organisations desire certain technical skills or look for specific characteristics when hiring, they should be shouting about these to students. If we want to ensure that the next generation of workers are fit-for-purpose, hiring organisations must be proactive in educating students on what they will need to be successful in tomorrow’s workplace.

Educational institutions also have a part to play and should ensure their teachers are educated on the wide scope of opportunities that various courses can open doors to, and they should engage with organisations conducting workshops, holding events, or having guidance sessions so that the next generation have the knowledge required to be successful.

It is all well and good looking at the statistics and saying to ourselves “our digital future doesn’t look very bright” but what are we going to do about it? We have all spent the last year utilising digital technology from email to video calls to online gaming, and we’ve all managed to adapt - even in the education system. So why can’t we carry this forward? Organisations should focus their attention on partnering with their local schools and colleges, offering digital meet-and-greets between students and their employees. There is no longer a need for an employee to take half a day out to visit a school, this can be done simply via video call. One hour between a working professional and a selection of students can potentially inspire and educate the future workforce on what to expect and aim for.

If employers fail to educate the next generation on the importance of digital skills, the country runs the risk of falling behind others and putting our students out of a job before they’ve even started looking.

Sebastian Kerridge is a Senior Consultant in the Talent Intelligence team at NSCG, providing real-time insight into talent markets to support employers with their future people strategy. To learn more about how this insight can help you get the best people in the current market, get in touch.