This World Youth Skills Day, technology experts discuss how the industry is working to boost youth skills, and the importance of upskilling young people to help close UK’s widening tech skills gap.
From improving the diversity of the tech industry through making STEM subjects more accessible to all, to education bodies considering what a classroom to teach tech leaders of the future will look like – there is a lot still to do. Businesses too must look at how to better train the next generation of technology experts, equipping them with skills that will help them thrive in an increasingly digital world.
Promoting digital inclusivity and accessibility to empower young people
Diversity in the tech industry has long been a challenge, especially in leadership roles. However, if young people see others that represent them in the industry, they are more likely to aspire to take up certain roles, and train to learn certain skills. For example, Sue-Ellen Wright, Managing Director Aerospace Defence and Security at Sopra Steria believes that “young people of diverse backgrounds must be represented not only in marketing materials but in the design, development and testing processes” and that “this issue has never been more critical than in the current world of advancing AI and Machine Learning.”
Another route to promoting diversity is by improving tech accessibility, and as Lauren McCann, Figma for Education Team Lead at Figma notes, “it is more important than ever that we empower a new generation of designers from every walk of life, and work to eliminate the issues of access.” Lauren adds that “Specialised degrees and expensive hardware and tools shouldn’t be a barrier to entry.”
Igniting an interest in STEM
Education bodies have long been promoting the uptake of STEM subjects in schools. However, as Sean Farrington – EVP EMEA at Pluralsight points out, it is now more important than ever. “In order to keep up with the rapid pace of technological change that organisations are seeing, we must increase the focus on building a pipeline of young people with in-demand skills.” STEM skills aren’t being promoted enough in schools, with “only 15,000 UK students sitting a computing or ICT A-Level last summer”. Sean believes “the UK must act now to boost the number of students enrolling in computing classes.”
This is echoed by Paul Barth, Global Head of Data Literacy at Qlik, who believes in every young person’s right to a rewarding, enriching career. He says “In an increasingly data-centric world, they need to be taught the relevant data skills to enjoy that right. Our research found business leaders and employees alike predict that data literacy will be the most in-demand skill by 2030, and 81% of executives believe it will become as vital in the future as the ability to use a computer is today.”
With low uptake in schools and an increasingly digital future, it’s important that other organisations, such as Girls Who Code, also help encourage young people learn digital skills and close the skills gap. Ian McShane, VP of Strategy at Arctic Wolf agrees, noting that “World Youth Skills Day should serve as a call to action to contribute to and engage with STEM focused organisations and causes to equip young people with vocational skills ready for careers in IT and cybersecurity, and to help to promote diversity.”
Some, such as Jamie Lyon, Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at Lucid, argue although STEM is important, there is great power in also teaching young people softer but more transferrable skills. Jamie says young workers should “equip themselves with skills that will last a lifetime” as “being able to inspire different ways of thinking, in conjunction with being a strong listener, is always valuable to help teams and companies both understand and overcome complex problems.”
The future of the classroom
Technology is continuing to advance at a rapid pace, and at the same time the pandemic has transformed how we work – likely for the long term. Both factors mean that the skills we teach to young people must keep evolving. Paul McHugh, Area Director UK at Cradlepoint looks to a future where “with connectivity and newer technologies, like virtual reality, students can learn from home or other countries just as well as if they were in a school.” As a result of this new environment, Paul says educators should be “encouraging independent learning and promoting diverse thought”, skills that will help them navigate a new digital age.
However, providing a high quality of education will also rely on having the right tools, whether in the classroom or for learning remotely. Matt Waring, Education Channel Manager at Logitech notes how by placing “a greater focus on tools like tablets and styluses that power students’ creativity, or video conferencing that keeps remote learners engaged”, students will come out of education “prepared to work in innovative ways, collaborate digitally with peers and feel confident with technology.”
Improving training in the workplace
Transforming youth skills doesn’t stop in schools. In fact, it must be carried through to the workplace and across whole careers. However, training for younger member of staff currently places a lot of focus on technical skills. Stephen Paterson, Exec for Consulting at AND Digital believes that “businesses can no longer afford to take this approach – and should be looking to the so called ‘softer skills’ people can bring to the table”. Even in a digital age, skills such as teamworking and quality listening should not be overlooked.
Similarly, EJ Cay, Vice President, UK and Ireland, at Genesys says that traditional training “has neglected the increasingly important skills of empathy and human interaction in a digital world” and that “we need to place more emphasis on these skills for individuals entering the world of customer experience.”
Putting a focus on supporting younger team members will pay off, says Sarah Gray, Head of HR at Exponential-e, especially in closing the digital skills gap. She recognised the importance of employers showing a “willingness to support new recruits with developing and nurturing these skills”, for “those organisations will be in a much better position to succeed.”
This focus can help dramatically transform the skills of the next workforce for the better, put only if businesses want to put in the effort to give their new recruits as many opportunities to learn as possible. As Geoff Smith, CEO at Grayce puts it “Businesses need to expand the provision of high-quality training for young people by exposing them to a broad range of opportunities to better equip them for the future.”
It’s clear that as technology continues to advance, the skills and learning opportunities we offer to young people must follow suit. Within the workplace, instilling a culture of continuous learning is key. In addition, diversity in the sector must continue to be encouraged, and with new working and learning environments, both businesses and schools will need to look at how technology can help teach and train the next generation.
Mark Gray, UK & Ireland Country Manager at Universal Robots, sums it up well. “Collaborative work by businesses, government and educators will be key in inspiring the engineers of the future, as well as ensuring new employees are equipped with the necessary skills for Industry 4.0”. He notes that “robots will be used by over 50% of production operators in a decade’s time. However, to meet this potential, the future workforce must be trained in a whole host of new digital skills”. This sentiment rings true outside of just robotics – training the workforce and young people with many new skillsets will be critical.
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