By Gerry Carroll, Author of the Realtime Generation Report, Logicalis
In under a decade teens have progressively gained in their digital sophistication. Though exposed to the same technologies and external influences as those born before the Millennium, a lifetime online has enabled them to eclipse today’s expectations of a digitally literate worker, giving them the potential to transform the economic future of the UK.
Having readily embraced the market shift to digital devices and applications, their teenage inclination to ‘hack’ means many are evolving established technologies to fit their needs, or innovating solutions to their own day-to-day challenges. To them, digital, and its rapid pace of evolution, is second nature. This perspective, coupled with their digital skillsets, can offer enormous commercial advantage to UK plc and the economy.
To understand how today’s teens have established such an influential role in the digitisation of our economy, and why they have become early indicators of digital trends, we need to look to the past:
The devices, applications, and technical knowledge once exclusively enjoyed in the workplace are increasingly commoditised; technology’s advancing sophistication, simplicity, and accessibility to even pre-schoolers is establishing consumer demand; and the rising computerisation of administrative (virtual PAs) or manual jobs (robot warehouses) is forcing the creation of new, digitally-oriented careers.
A global recession put the spotlight on employability, career prospects and choices, and the affordability of higher education.
A tripling of tuition fees focused the student consumer seeking value for money from their higher education investment and career prospects.
Successive government strategies to build a knowledge economy powerhouse (Gordon Brown a la 2007), engaging STEM industries in student campaigns, and shifting the emphasis of the UK’s computing curriculum to ‘how’ as well as ‘what’, is beginning to pay dividends.
This combination of strategic influences and socioeconomic factors have shaped a digitally literate workforce, capable of achieving the efficiency and productivity gains from ICT that non digital native generations have promised and found difficult to deliver. Likewise, their experiences and expectations of the services and goods they can buy – in the knowledge that connected means better, healthier and smarter living – are forcing the digital transformation of organisations.
Throw in some teenage curiosity, naturally collaborative behaviour, and desire for the latest and greatest, and it’s of little wonder that teens' digital sophistication is surpassing that of the average worker.
Mapping the influences and events shaping teens, and our, digital future, can help us identify what has stimulated demand for technology, and enabled highly connected digital environments to flourish. Likewise, it helps us to project the success of future digital strategies and understand how today’s teens can accelerate the modernisation of organisations.
Back in 2007 access to the internet, for teenagers, was largely limited to the PC, with only 24% owning 3G phones and 50% using Instant Messaging daily. What’s more, MySpace was the most popular social media platform. This all changed over the next year with the introduction of the first iPhone, the launch of Facebook and the death of Bebo.
Fast-forward to 2016. A few years, a global financial crisis and tripling university fees later we’re witnessing the dividends of the government and industry’s intervention to promote computer sciences. 93% of teens own a smartphone. Scheduled content is being replaced by on-demand from YouTube, Netflix and Spotify and 41% are studying for a qualification in computer science. What’s more, 18% are coding, the top three career sectors are Science & Research, IT & Information Management, and Manufacturing & Engineering, and 52% of teens expect to create their own apps to use on higher education and company networks and devices.
It’s clear that converting this generation’s digital enthusiasm into computer science or related postgraduate degrees and careers is essential to the UK’s bid to develop a knowledge economy – we need innovators, creators and coders, as well as skilled engineers to help implement new digital infrastructures, processes and business models. We can also, however, increase productivity and innovation simply by employing this army of ready-made IT literate workers – regardless of an IT-related qualification, they’re naturals at using, interrogating and exploiting devices and apps to their needs. With the right infrastructure at their fingertips, and the freedom to deploy their skills, they could transform your organisation.
Those joining the workforce over the next decade will instinctively understand how to use and integrate applications and digital processes. They will be better equipped to manage the data generated by IoT-based products and services, and will expect data to be mined ‘as standard’ for revenue-generating insights and to deliver an improved consumer experience.
Over the years, the Realtime Generation survey has demonstrated the significance of teens' digital skillsets to UK plc. This generation will demand all-encompassing digital experiences with brands and employers alike. But they also have the capability to influence the productivity potential from digital strategies. This push/pull force of demand and capability, harnessed correctly, could have meaningful commercial impact on organisations and GDP for years to come, starting with today’s classrooms.
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