Article by Eleanor Bradley, MD Registry and Public Benefit, Nominet

Team of young coworkers working together at night office.Young woman using mobile laptop at the table.Horizontal.Blurred backgroundThe current pandemic has catalysed a digital transformation in the world of work.

Businesses worldwide are embracing technology in a way they never have before, moving complete companies online and maintaining business-as-usual (where possible) via digital channels.

It’s no overstatement to say that COVID-19 will transform working life as we know it, rushing in the changes that would have otherwise taken years. Unfortunately, it also makes the issues that undermine our digital society become ever more critical, or we risk letting too many fall between the cracks.

Spare a thought for the younger generation. Even outside of the current pandemic, it’s never been harder to make career decisions and plan for a future that is challenging to predict. The rise of digital and the rapid rate of technological change are transforming our jobs market at pace: research from the World Economic Forum reveals that 65% of children entering primary school today will take up jobs that don’t exist yet. We also already inhabit a world in which 82% of advertised roles require digital skills, a percentage which could be increased in the years post-COVID. This means that, even if we can’t guide young people on the specifics of the jobs available when they enter the working world, we can give them every chance of success by equipping them with the digital skills required for their future.

Digital skills training doesn’t only matter to the young people themselves. The UK economy could lose as much as £141.5bn of GDP growth if we don’t narrow the skills gap which already exists and ensure that the future working generation has the necessary skills for – and interest in – the plethora of digital roles available.

We also need to move the dial when it comes to gender diversity in crucial industries like the tech sector: today, just 17% of employees are female. The pipeline is no more encouraging. In STEM higher education, 69% of undergraduates are male. Diversity matters in our sector because we need a variety of different people, perspectives and ideas at the table if we are to build the devices and solutions that work for the populace as a whole. Celebrating – and providing training in – digital skills from a young age could make all the difference in helping both genders become equally inspired by STEM subjects and the potential careers that could follow.

Another issue in need of attention is the current mismatch between supply and demand for newly qualified STEM students. A recent study from Geek Talent  found that 1,000 people studying courses related to computer games development or design in the North East had just 29 relevant roles open to them. The vast majority of graduates will be qualified for roles they don’t secure and may struggle to find other jobs without the knowledge of how their newly acquired skills can be transferable.

Such an abundance of digitally-capable graduates must be guided on how to adapt and apply their new skills to other roles in the sector. We also need to ensure colleges and universities offer courses that provide specific skills for specific roles where there is an industry need.  With more people working in growing sectors like machine learning, digital transformation and AI than ever before, it’s paramount to help our young people understand the market growth and opportunities, then seek the right skills required to fulfil roles in this exciting area.

This is an area that Nominet has been tackling for some time via our public benefit activity, using profits made from managing and running the .UK domain registry for this purpose. We are determined to make a positive and sustainable impact on the lives of young people, with a specific mission to improve a million lives a year through our outreach.

One of the various ways we do this seems appropriate to highlight here as an example of how we can prepare young people for their future. In partnership with Livity, Nominet has spearheaded This Is How, a digital learning platform and podcast that features individuals working in digital jobs in the creative sector. On the podcast, our guests explain what they do and how they secured their role, giving our listeners an insight into the jobs available and what skills they might need to find their way to them. We also share resources on a learning platform to guide the inspired on next steps, aiding them in making productive movement towards a career they might want.

Simple tech solutions like This is How can help us to reach a demographic who spend a lot of time online, plus the form is dynamic enough to reflect the changing nature of jobs today. It may just be a podcast, but it’s a small step towards bringing about the change our society and our economy needs and a means of guiding those making crucial decisions about the part they will play.

As we marvel at how the internet and technology have kept us afloat (mentally and professionally) during this pandemic, we must also be reminded of how crucial it has become to ensure the future generation can cope with a digital world and find their roles within it. Digital skills have become life skills, and we owe it to young people to equip them with what they need – perhaps this is the lesson we can all take from the COVID-19 experience.

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