The digital skills gap is one of the biggest challenges facing businesses and societies worldwide. For Europe, the extent of this gap is worrying: The EC has predicted a shortage of up to 825,000 information and communication technology professionals by the end of the decade.
In our increasingly digital world, the implications of this shortfall are profound. Businesses are increasingly relying on ICT equipment and a workforce of skilled technicians to remain productive and competitive. These technicians are also critical in ensuring that businesses can continue to deliver the transformative, digital services that consumers demand.
If we are to successfully address this shortfall, it is essential that parents and teachers, private organisations and governments work together to instill and promote the importance of digital literacy. In doing so, lessons can be learned from the millennial generation, which is demonstrating best efforts to tackle the issue.
Parents have an important role to play in helping to support the digital literacy of their children from a young age. By offering guidance on the huge range of careers that digital skills enable – from mobile app programmer to data scientist – parents can help their children manage their learning to best meet their aspirations.
While some evidence suggests that many parents still guide their children to pursue ‘traditional’ careers over digital ones (doctors, lawyers, etc.), this trend should change as ‘millennials’ become parents themselves; and as it becomes increasingly clear that even for ‘traditional’ professions, digital skills are now essential.
As children enter the education system they need to be inspired to see digital skills as a core skill – as fundamental to their lives as math and literacy – and shown a clear path to how these skills can lead to exciting and fulfilling careers.
Encouragingly, governments are beginning to understand the importance of appropriate syllabi for the digital age, helping ensure that children are taught skills that will be useful to them in their future work and home lives.
While parental and governmental support for learning digital skills is essential, it’s the businesses sitting at the cutting edge of technology which are in the best position to advise educators on the core skills needed to drive modern industry.
The EU has also set up a ‘Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs’, which sees over 80 companies across Europe actively facilitating collaboration among business and education providers, public and private actors to attract more young people into ICT education.
The good news is that we are already seeing businesses and other organisations rise to this challenge.
Apps for Good, for example, is an open-source technology education movement, supported by business, which aims to update the teaching methods to make them more relevant to the digital world. Another example can be found in Sky’s creation of a technology hub in the north of England.
The hub, which will create up to 400 highly-skilled jobs, builds on Sky’s existing dedicated technology training schemes and demonstrates how big business can help to directly promote digital education.
Arguably the generation seen to do the most to tackle the issue of the digital skills gap is the millennial generation.
Older millennials, who have experienced the positive effects of digital literacy firsthand, are actively offering support to educate younger members of their generation, as well as a new wave of students.
The Telefonica-backed Stemettes, started by millennial Anne-Marie Imafidon in 2012, is an example of an organization created to help tackle the digital skills gap from the get-go, ensuring that students not only learn the digital skills they need for their personal lives, but that they are also learning the skills most needed by industry.
Clearly, if nations are to grow economically and maintain an inclusive society, we must work to plug the skills gap and give citizens confidence in their digital skills. This view is supported in Telefonica’s upcoming Index on Digital Life.
The Index will show that the level of digital confidence exhibited by a country’s citizens has a significant impact on its ability to fuel the digital economy. Achieving this confidence is a hefty task and can only be done by a holistic, society-wide push that brings together parents, governments, educators and businesses.
By pulling together to inspire educate the next generation; parents, governments, schools and businesses can ensure that global citizens have the skills they need to live rewarding lives while helping ensure our business can compete globally.