While the recent Queen’s speech and the State Opening of Parliament unveiled PM Boris Johnson‘s plans to drive the UK’s “skills revolution”, a new survey reveals that the nation remains at risk of a widening digital divide, with less than 10% of Gen Z learners claiming they plan to pursue science, technology, engineering or mathematics-related (STEM) studies.
In fact, a poll conducted by social networking platform Yubo unveiled that Gen Z are much more keen to pursue creative arts and design-focused disciplines (15.4%) over those rooted in STEM (9.5%). Medicine was Gen Z’s next-best field of study after the arts in terms of desirability (14.5%).
These findings point to a concerning potential increase in the digital skills gap – especially since 60% of businesses recently agreed that their reliance on advanced knowledge and expertise in digital will further increase in the next five years. Despite the projected future demand, STEM subjects ranked 6th in terms of Gen Z popularity. Media communications and trades-related studies were the least popular route for the next generation.
Following the events of the past year, 65% of Gen Z participants said their post-secondary school study plans have changed. Universities, for example, have faced mounting criticism for maintaining fees of £9,250 despite almost half of their student bodies receiving their tuition online throughout the COVID-19 lockdown, leading many prospective students to question whether higher education is a viable option for them.
Almost 10% (9.2%) of respondents also said that the coronavirus crisis has diminished their desire to commit to further studies at all, with the urge to take advantage of easing travel restrictions taking precedence instead. However, more than half (53.7%) of Gen Z respondents still envision their future in the UK rather than abroad.
Alternative options are now taking the lead over the more traditional three-year degree route, with almost two fifths (37%) stating they would like to enter the workforce or go into an apprenticeship straight after school. In terms of career aspirations, however, Gen Z’s digital capabilities still shine through, with more than a third (33.1%) claiming they’d like to establish a career as an influencer or content creation, highlighting the lasting impact of social media on the younger generation.
In a competitive employment market, businesses also have to work hard to secure the most in-demand talent. So how can they ensure they’re hitting the mark? According to Yubo’s survey, work/life balance is the most sought-after offering Gen Z look for in businesses today (32.2%). Salary follows in second, with more than a quarter (26%) citing pay as a primary concern.
“The digital skills gap is already deemed a crisis – if we continue on without putting steps into place to combat this, we won’t just be struggling for the next few years, but for decades” – Jill Hodges, Fire Tech
Given the widespread remote transition that has taken place over the last 12 months, it may come as a surprise that only 3.7% of participants value flexible or hybrid policies from potential future employers, while only 2.1% said environmental protection policies are a priority for them.
But are Gen Z preparing to forge their own path instead? That could well be the case, with the research also revealing that almost 15% (14.8%) have desires to start their own business, with a further 10% looking to explore their own projects alongside working full-time.
Jill Hodges, founder of e-learning platform Fire Tech, has urged the government to “sit up, pay attention and consider possible routes of action” to avoid the impending “digital skills disaster”.
Hodges’ company has penned an open letter to the government, calling for urgent funding towards tech skills programmes to “ensure our young people are as prepared as possible for later life”.
“I simply cannot stress enough the importance of supporting the younger generation on their journey through life, and this ideally needs to start from a young age so they can gain both confidence and interest early, and pick their subjects accordingly,” adds Hodges. “The digital skills gap is already deemed a crisis – if we continue on without putting steps into place to combat this, we won’t just be struggling for the next few years, but for decades.”