Bridging the digital skills gap

Colin Mansell, co-founder of RED Academy, on how to turn today’s students into tomorrow’s tech-savvy workers

While the technology industry continues to grow at a rapid speed, the digital skills gap widens. Companies need tech-savvy employees, but we are now faced with a shrinking talent pool. The pipeline of home-grown talent is relatively weak, with one in three employees in the tech industry coming from European countries. Research produced by Intern-Tech also suggests that businesses feel their employees lack the digital skills that could advance their businesses. With the uncertainty of Brexit looming, which is unlikely to make the situation any better, we need to be proactive rather than reactive to the digital skills gap.

The education system in the UK is still under-preparing students for their futures, leaving many young adults attempting to fill the skills gap themselves. If the roots for success aren’t planted during the early years, what options do school-leavers have to boost their digital competence?

Many argue that today’s students are ‘digital natives,’ meaning that their lives are encompassed by technology. For example, many children are used to carrying out daily tasks online such as purchasing goods. However, just because a child is familiar with using technology, it doesn’t mean that they possess the in-depth understanding of technology, or how to use it within a business setting. The question is what options are there for young adults who wish to transition from ‘digital natives’ to ‘digital workers’?

Young adults should take control of their education right now to make themselves more appealing to the industries

While we wait for the education system to formally bridge the digital skills gap, young adults have several options available that they can invest in themselves. One way to increase digital competence could be by helping students explore alternative options in education. Even today, students view the route of A-levels followed by university as the only successful route to a career. Although a university degree has its merits, alternative options can provide young adults with better, more relatable, industry-specific preparation for specialised areas. For example, although introduced in 2015, degree apprenticeships are still uncommon amongst young adults despite the benefits they can bring. These courses are designed to specifically give students work-based experience whilst also studying part-time. The benefit of these schemes is that participants will get a degree at the end of it but also gain the hands-on industry experience, which is actually the majority of the course!

For those wanting to gain real industry insight and experience, practical full-time and part-time courses may be an option. The flexibility of part-time studying allows young adults to use them as ‘top-ups’ in between university timetables or work schedules. Alternatively, these can be taken as full-time courses that provide them with specialised information needed for the industry whilst increasing digital literacy. Specialised courses such as this connect students with industry experts, and therefore can be appealing to companies as students are given first-hand, relevant experience. This also means they are more likely to be more familiar with the working environment and what will be expected of them day to day. The benefits of a shorter course also means that they can easily be adapted to reflect the growing changes of the tech industry, giving businesses the reassurance that students’ knowledge is current and relevant. With tuition fees a huge sticking point for students, alternative courses may also provide more appealing payment options, with some offering reduced upfront payments and loans to fund their study.

With the digital skills gap being referred to as a crisis, young adults should take control of their education right now to make themselves more appealing to the industries. There are several options available, and whilst traditional routes such as university education shouldn’t be disregarded, there would be no harm in exploring alternative options to close the gap. 

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