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Creating a skilled workforce fit for the future

By Chris Jeffries, CEO and founder of Launch Your Career

A report from the Learning and Work Institute predicts that there will be a shortfall of 2.5 million highly skilled workers in 2030, a skills deficit that will cost the country a staggering £120 billion.

A large price to pay at a time when Britain’s economy shrank almost 10% last year, its biggest slump in more than 300 years. The pandemic caused whole sectors to close their doors for months on end. And it’s not over yet. At least 250,000 small businesses are expected to fold this year.

In a time of such economic uncertainty, what can businesses do to support the skills gap and ensure that our workforce is as skilled as it can be come 2030?

New entrants to the world of work

A good place to start is with those entering the workforce. As it currently stands, less than half of UK employers believe new entrants to the workforce are arriving with the necessary advanced digital skillset. Graduate specific data from the Institute of Student Employers backs this up, with a quarter of employers unable to find graduates with the programming skills required for their business.

These findings may come as a surprise bearing in mind most students grew up with technology and don’t remember a time without smartphones.

However, the term ‘digital skills’ encompasses a huge range of talents, knowledge and expertise. My own company, for instance, needs people who can create video content, design web pages and find their way around complex databases. Other businesses are looking for people with different digital skill sets.

Employers across all sectors are crying out for digital skills to boost their post-pandemic recovery.

Digital skills

Prior to Covid many students were unsure about what they wanted to do for a living, but the pandemic has heightened this feeling as teenagers have witnessed many business sectors decimated. According to our recent research, 70% of pupils are now unsure of what they want to do with their career and 78% are worried about their career choice.

When it comes to a career requiring digital skills, many young people have told me that it simply isn’t for them, mostly because they lack awareness of the scope and opportunities available.

Some students imagine life as a computer programmer sitting alone with only a screen for company – and don’t see the appeal. Others assume they will never have the maths ability or technical dexterity to bring IT skills to the workplace. But these perceptions are inaccurate and outdated.

Businesses must find a way to show those starting out at work that there are plenty of roles involving digital ability which match their own strengths, interests and personalities.

Yes, the world needs people who are talented in coding and blockchain, but it also needs those who can put a business on the map through their understanding of search engine optimisation, and creatives who can build a brand’s reputation on social media.

Once they realise they don’t need to be the next Ada Lovelace or Alan Turing, young people with all sorts of abilities can help the country bridge the digital skills divide.

Work experience opens up worlds

A key piece of the digital skills puzzle lies in the hands of businesses. Without links to the workplace, how can young people see first-hand the skills required at work?

The pandemic has reduced opportunities for in-person industrial placements and internships with employers, with less than a fifth (17%) of students having the opportunity to get involved in work experience in the last 12 months.

However, many organisations have found creative ways to keep these links strong through approaches such as remote networking, virtual internships and careers podcasts.

Engaging with young people early encourages them to recognise the many gifts and abilities they already have, and helps them consider how these can be nurtured for a digitally literate workplace.

Equally, hiring managers should look beyond specific skill requirements and focus on potential.

The power of technology

As the world opens up, businesses must continue to harness the power of technology to reach out to students and graduates.

New techniques are making their mark in careers education. Virtual reality is proving to be effective in opening minds to different roles and workplaces. Businesses can show students what it’s like to work for them by creating immersive experiences which allow a young person to move around a manufacturing plant or visualise different medical career pathways.

Digital expertise is key to driving productivity and accelerating growth in today’s difficult economic climate. But this can only be achieved if young people are excited about the career opportunities available, and inspired to develop the skills employers need.

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