Creating digital futures for the jobless generation

The digital skills gap is on the rise and with the need for technologically savvy workers not set to diminish, there has never been a better time to use untapped creative minds. Specifically those individuals classified as NEETs (Not in Employment, Education or Training).

Globally, almost 300m 15-24 year olds are not working, and in the UK nearly three quarters of a million young people currently sit in this category. However, there is a lack of awareness among the unemployed youth of the traineeships available to them, according to a report published by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP).

As it stands, graduates and apprentices tend to be the ones that are looked upon to shine a light and step up to fill this current shortage in digitally skilled workers. The opportunities for apprentices are only set to rise, with the UK Apprenticeship levy coming into effect as of April 2017 and the government’s ambition is to have 3 million apprenticeships secured by 2020.
The AELP report suggests training programmes for NEETs need to be better promoted to encourage the UKs pool of talented out of work individuals to gain the skills they need to apply for the growing number of apprenticeship level roles that are set to be created over the coming years.

As such organisations need to embrace the challenge of providing pre-apprenticeship programmes that target this pool of diverse talent. The benefit of doing so won’t just be realised by the organisations that help nurture NEETs. In the process, it will also be possible to support the wider UK economy in narrowing the current digital skills gap.

From the grass roots
The reality is there are already a range of traineeships available to NEETs, some already run by employers large and small, across sectors from financial services to digital marketing and retail. One example being the work Cisco is doing in partnership with Living Networks, Job Centre Plus and Richmond College. Together they have deployed a 12 week pilot programme called Pathway to Your Future, which is aimed at 18-24 year old NEETs.

The scheme is focused on building confidence, driving a new talent pipeline and creating a sustainable skills training platform with the aim being that 100% of NEETs will find employment once the scheme is completed. By starting at the grass roots and supplying the tools that are needed to succeed in roles both within Cisco’s own apprenticeship programme, as well as opportunities outside of the organisation, it gives young people the chance to succeed, often in areas they may have not have initially considered they had the skills to explore.

In line with the government’s agenda, the aim of the pilot programme is to develop life skills and aptitudes to enable employability and work-readiness. This is supported by Cisco mentoring sessions; workshops focused on cyber security, digital skills programmes, creative learning and collaboration sessions. These activities range from group challenges, for example, around the Internet of Things, as well guidance on workplace etiquette, dress codes and how to thrive at networking events, all of which set young people up for a successful career, whether at Cisco or beyond.

Technology then plays another important part in the process, by taking work to the unemployed. Digital companies regularly offer flexible working, but many entry-level jobs don’t require attendance at an office, preferring to not have the overheads generated by an office, instead getting workers to complete simple tasks from home.

Bringing gender equality to the front of the queue
Challenging preconceived ideas that young people hold around the potential career paths they can take is another important role for those helping to nurture the talent of tomorrow. This stage sees the workers of tomorrow get assistance to look beyond what they perceive to be stumbling blocks, which can range from a result of a lack of training, to banishing gender stereotypes.

There is not just a lack of digitally skilled employees for the number of technology roles available, but also a lack of women applying to fill roles that require digital skills. Interestingly, two thirds of the UK’s current pool of NEETs are female, according to Deloitte Global, yet in contrast, just 18 percent of current technology roles are held by women and the number of those applying are equally as low. There are steps that can be taken to help overcome this, including altering the language used in job descriptions. For example, by replacing words such as ‘technology’ with the likes of ‘creativity’ and ‘digital’, you can see a rise in the number of people applying who wouldn’t usually consider a job in this sector, but who are likely to be just as skilled to fill the role.

According to Girls Who Code, 74 percent of young girls express interest in STEM based subjects, however just five percent of leadership positions in the technology industry are held by women. It is therefore clear that the enthusiasm and skills for technology based careers are being lost in transition. As a result, it is crucial that those who are embarking on their first steps into the world of work are educated to ensure they fully understand what a job in a tech or digital industry entails and the breadth of jobs that are open to them, to help nurture the initial interest they once expressed as a child and turn that into the start of a successful and fulfilling career.

There is still work to do to help uncover and make use of the talented unemployed youth. While there is a clear demand for more skilled digital workers across UK industry, the need to better nurture this group and provide clearer paths to career success goes beyond individual industries.

It is time for organisations of all sizes get together to collaborate with the government and devise an education system supported adequately by the right choices and investments that helps the talent of tomorrow enter into a career today, and in doing so play a pivotal role in transforming our world.

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