Employment

Young people key to closing digital skills gap amid Covid unemployment

Latest research shows that young people are confident they can meet the necessary requirements for basic digital skills.

computers

Image: Scott Graham/Unsplash

Despite being heavily impacted by Covid-19 unemployment, young people are the key to closing the digital skills gap in the labour market, according to new research.

A report by the Learning and Work Institute showed that basic digital skills are now a requirement in almost every job, but many organisations say their current workforce doesn’t meet the standards.

With people under 25 accounting for two thirds of job losses over the pandemic, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, the opportunity to connect people made redundant with job opportunities is even more pressing, the authors wrote.

“Building back better means investment in skills and underlines the imperative that we find solutions now,” wrote Lucy Thompson, chief people and transformation officer at Enginuity, an employment think tank involved in the report.

“Levels of deprivation should not restrict young people from reaching their true potential, and as employers look for talent in new and different ways this means using digital technology to engage and excite young people to enabling and rewarding careers,” she added.

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Developed in partnership with Worldskills UK and Enginuity, the report is based on surveys of over 1,000 busineses and over 2,000 young people fromacrosss Great Britain. 

Over nine in ten (92%) businesses say that having basic digital skills, such as using spreadsheets, presentations and email  is important for employees working at their organisation, and four in five (82%) job vacancies ask for digital skills.

There is also a growing demand for advanced digital skills such as coding or using specialised software, with three in five (60%) employers expecting to rely on them more in the next five years

However, the lack of formal training in schools and higher education has contributed to a growing ‘digital skills gap’ in the labour market.

One in four (23%) employers say that their current workforce lacks the basic digital skills that they require, rising to over one in three (37%) in relation to advanced digital skills.

The switch to online learning has exposed a huge rise in digital poverty, especially among young people from lower socio-economic groups.

One in five (21%) households with children do not have access to a laptop, desktop or tablet at home and over one in twenty (6%) have no access to internet.

“The recent coronavirus pandemic shone a light on the shocking scale of digital poverty,” wrote the report’s authors.

“Ensuring all young people have the digital skills that our future economy needs will be crucial both to economic competitiveness and to social justice.”

Despite a rise in Covid-19 unemployment, research shows that young people are confident that they can close the digital skills gap in the labour market. 

A recent survey by Youthsight of over 2,000 young people aged 16-24 found that almost nine in ten (88%) say that digital skills will be essential in their future careers.

Over half (62%) are confident that they have the basic digital skills required by employers, but less than one in five (18%) are very confident they possess advanced digital skills.

However, among young people there is still a gender gap in terms of interest in digital careers and  participation in ICT courses at school, apprenticeships and in higher education.

Currently three in five (62%) young men are interested in pursuing a career in this field compared to two in five  (42%) young women.

The Learning and Work Institute said: “If we are to equalise opportunities in the future, and ensure we are able to meet employer skills needs, we need to continue to tackle these inequalities.

“This must include inspiring more young females about the opportunities available through digital skills, and addressing the gendered assumptions and structural barriers that stand in the way of progress.”

Overall, the report stressed the importance of training young people to have basic digital skills in order to build back the economy. 

Dr. Neil Bentley-Gockmann, chief executive of WorldSkills UK said: “Young people and businesses are at one, recognising the growing importance of the digital economy. But assumptions that the current digital skills gap will be closed in the months and years to come are misplaced.”  

Are you a young person who lost their job during the Covid-19 crisis? We want to hear your story. Get in touch with rora@bigissue.com.

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