Essential digital skills for a new generation - the importance of starting early

By Ajay Sharman posted 21-04-2023 11:55


Are we really helping students understand what Digital Skills actually mean?

Having attended a number of adult, workforce and business focused conversations and meetings regarding the importance of digital skills recently and as a member of the South East of England Digital Skills Partnership, is it an agenda spoken about by adults but at times misunderstood by pupils?

Ultimately key digital skills include being able to confidently use devices like a tablets, computers or mobile phones for simple, personal and work tasks – and also understanding how to be safe and responsible online.

UNESCO’s definition of digital skills is ‘a range of abilities to use digital devices, communication applications, and networks to access and manage information. They enable people to create and share digital content, communicate and collaborate, and solve problems for effective and creative self-fulfilment in life, learning, work, and social activities.’ These days, the digital skills required in the workplace are more advanced, and companies expect the vast majority of their employees to have them, not just a select few. Technology is at the centre of our lives, and as our dependence on the internet and digital communications increases, our workforce must keep up with the evolving skill demands.

The world of work is moving extremely fast and it’s critical we ensure that young people are empowered to enter employment with digital awareness, making them active citizens in society. This is much more than an employment issue, some would argue it’s becoming as critical as English and Mathematics skills. Digital skills are fundamental, and this has fuelled the need for digital training – without digital abilities, employees will fall short of the capabilities needed to drive digital change. Data from the Digitalisation Strategy for Business Transformation suggests 91% of businesses are engaged in some form of digital initiative, and 87% of senior business leaders say digitalization is a priority.

When you look across industry sectors, including STEM sectors, digital skills are crucial. Farmers use sensors and information technology to automate, monitor, and regulate their systems to become more profitable, efficient, and sustainable. Food delivery apps, like Just Eat, help restaurants provide food to hungry customers without them having to leave their homes. This adds a complex layer of responsibilities for restaurant workers who now must manage orders through digital devices, as well as any in-person interactions. House buying, a traditionally face-to-face industry, relies on digital skills. Virtual walk-throughs are available to prospects looking to relocate, and signing documents remotely with services like DocuSign is a quick and convenient way to finalise an agreement.

The mass shift to online business operations in recent years further accelerated the need for digitally literate workers who could help traditional businesses successfully grow in an e-commerce world. Without a firm command of digital skills, there is no way to propel innovation and remain competitive. Employers realise this, so they’re prioritising candidates who can showcase their digital literacy. By developing better digital skills, employees have a chance to contribute to their communities, future proof their careers, and explore a wide range of professional opportunities.

According to a recent study, there are 4.6 billion active social media users worldwide, with the vast majority active on mobile devices. These figures also show a 13.2% increase in the number of global social users in just a year, with no sign of this slowing down. The ability to understand and use social media effectively is a core and valued skill that every professional should have. Social media is about understanding the dynamic relationship between brands, influencers, and consumers. Businesses need to reach out to customers, partners and influencers in ways that will drive traffic to their website - or product - for potential conversion. It now also plays a key role in providing good customer service as many consumers use social media to ask questions or make comments.

Beyond social media, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is one of the most influential disciplines that marketers have come to rely on. To put things in perspective, 81% of internet users search online for a product or service to buy, with Google accounting for 70% of that traffic. Business will attract valuable web traffic from the search engine results page. Most companies are in the business of selling products or services and want to outshine their competition in innovative ways to be easily found online.

Data Analytics and Data Science reduces mass communications to target customers by using data-driven precision marketing. Data analytics essentially allow colleagues to make educated and data-driven decisions to drive better business insights. The key is knowing what data to collect and measure to improve the next campaign. Data science is the study of data to extract meaningful insights for business. It is a multidisciplinary approach that combines principles and practices from the fields of mathematics, statistics, artificial intelligence, and computer engineering to analyse large amounts of data.

Data science is a fantastic career with a potential for future growth. Companies are actively looking for data scientists that can glean valuable information from massive amounts of data. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Data Science harness the power of AI and study the science of collecting, processing, analysing and using data. It supports problem solving and companies like DeepMind – who are one of STEM Learning’s supporters and are working with us by setting up ENTHUSE Partnerships - solving intelligence to advance science and benefit humanity.

The FutureDotNow 2023 event saw the release of the UK Essential Digital Skills for Work report which provided an overview of the specific digital work abilities that the UK labour force lacks. Developed by FutureDotNow and Lloyds Bank, the report reveals the full scale of basic tech skills gap in the UK labour force which have huge implications for individuals, business and the UK economy.

At a headline level, 23.4 million (59%) people in the UK labour force are not meeting their full potential, since they are unable to complete the 20 Essential Digital Skills for Work. 16.8 million (41%) people have the full skill set - but 3.2 million (8%) have none.

The report highlights a number of issues. Most worrying is the risk of the creation of a greater social and economic divide. Employers aspire to having diverse workforces that represent the customers and communities they serve, yet the talent pipeline is being compromised through key groups not having the digital fundamentals The data reveals those without formal qualifications, on lower incomes, living with an impairment or from lower socioeconomic groups, are some of the groups most likely to score poorly in these 20 key tasks. They are at risk of a double disadvantage as digital skills are a key enabler for career prospects and progression within the workplace.

A key quote from the report: “For employers, acting on the insight in this report represents an opportunity to realise real commercial value and growth potential, attract and build their people’s skills, and build efficiency and productivity across their organisations”. Educators should take advantage of this skills gap by helping students to understand the critical importance of digital skills.

In my view, digital skills training must start much, much earlier meaning there is less of a burden on employers to upskill their team. It is incumbent on education to support schools in many ways to have a new generation, who are comfortable with their devices and mobile phones, to see these skills as tools for future success.

STEM Learning works incredibly hard with the National Centre for Computing Education to upskill existing computing teachers in schools to deliver an engaging and valuable computing curriculum. The NCCE offers fantastic CPD and STEM Learning offers intensive digital skills CPD too.

It’s also crucial that young people access digitally literate role models, STEM Ambassadors that can support schools contextualise the world of work in an engaging and supportive way. These fantastic volunteers show great enthusiasm for working with young people in schools and in the community, with the shared goal of inspiring the next generation.

So hopefully working in collaboration, with companies, partners and young people, digital skills will become de rigueur for the workforce of the future.

Did you enjoy this blog? If so, scroll to the top and hit the 'Like' button!