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Don't assume Digital Natives are workplace-ready on skills

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan February 16, 2016
A timely reminder that the notion that there’s a breed of work-ready digital natives lurking in the wings is flawed and that we mustn't overlook this digital demographic.

The digital divide between those skilled up for the new age of business and those who aren’t is unfortunately a recurring theme, but also an essential one. 

Until that divide is bridged and people like myself can stop writing articles lamenting the skills crisis, then the real benefits of the digital economy won’t be spread evenly.

Sadly, there are still plenty of warnings out there that the problem remains very real.  One thing I’ve found interesting from two new examples of such warnings is that idea that the so-called digital natives coming into the workplace today actually don’t have the head-start they might be imagined to have.

For example, a study of 1000 employers in the UK by Capgemini Digital resulted in the statement from 80% of respondents that digital literacy is now regarded as an essential in the workplace of 2016.

Over 1,000 employers were surveyed, with over 80% agreeing that digital literacy is needed in the workplace, and 18% stating that young employees, whilst digitally savvy in terms of social media and familiarity with consumer online transactions in their daily lives, lack the necessary digital skills required for working in a business environment.

The survey found that 87% of employers, when looking to hire young people, require demonstrable ability to use the internet for work-based tasks, while 84% say they need young employees with skills that enable them to create basic digital content.

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 10.23.28
Source - Capgemini UK

There are clear financial benefits to having such skills, according to a second study, this time the Tech Nation 2016 report, which finds that the average advertised salary for digital roles is 36% higher than the overall national average at around £50,000 per annum. That’s a 13% growth rate over the past three years.

Geoff Mulgan, the chief executive of innovation charity Nesta, one of the backers of the report alongside Tech City UK, reckons that should make it worthwhile getting skilled-up:

Digital technologies are unlike any others – they change everything businesses do. That’s why, as this research confirms, digital jobs and activity are becoming more important in apparently non-digital industries.And it’s why the premium is so high, at an average of over £15,000 for digital over non-digital jobs. I hope that parents and teenagers will get the message – that acquiring digital skills pays off, wherever you are.

The problem is that while the UK’s young people may seem digitally-savvy, for all the popular talk of ‘digital natives’ in reality their digital skills aren’t focused on work-related.

According to Capgemini’s research, 47% of senior decision-makers - the people offering the jobs! - are of the view that people aged between 16-25 lack a strong foundation in digital work skills, defined as the ability to use collaboration and communication tools, design software, as well as understand the cloud and develop app.

Those sectors which place the highest level of importance on having good digital skills include:

  • Media, marketing, advertising, PR & sales (100% of respondents).
  • IT & Telecoms (98%).
  • Finance and Accounting (92%).
  • Medical (88%).
  • Retail (82%).

Alex Smith-Bingham, Head of Digital, Capgemini UK, says:

Young people have grown up with technology at their fingertips but clearly there is more work to do to develop the digital skills that are required in the workplace. Our research highlights that being adept with social media and consumer technology is simply not enough if the UK is to compete in the global digital economy.

While there is a genuine risk that the shortage of digital skills will pull British businesses behind their international counterparts, it can also be seen as an opportunity for all. By supporting the education system in the development of young people and the application of their digital literacy, the business community can ensure that they are all equipped with the best tools and skills possible to develop bright careers; in whatever industry they choose.

So what’s being done to address this? Well there are the usual high-minded words coming out of central government, such as Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge:

This government will continue to back, with all levers at our disposal, the innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship that is redefining and strengthening the modern British economy.

Er, OK - whatever that means. 

On a more immediately practical level, Capgemini has teamed up with The Princes Trust to deliver a series of programmes teaching 600 of the most disadvantaged young people in the UK the skills necessary to develop a career in today’s digital economy. Paul Brown, Director at The Prince’s Trust, says there’s an urgent need to address the problem:

Many of the young people The Trust supports haven’t had experience of applying digital skills in the workplace and don’t always realise the growing significance of this to employers across a range of sectors. Whether it’s a job in retail, hospitality or even accounting, solid digital literacy is as much a fundamental requisite as traditional academic qualifications. Without it, applicants face missing out on the roles they want, which is why we’re committed to helping young people develop their skills in this area.

My take

A timely reminder that the notion that there’s a breed of work-ready digital natives lurking in the wings is flawed.

While attention needs to be paid to the other digitally disenfranchised demographics, working on the assumption that digital youth don’t need assistance as well would be a major error.

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