In recognition of World Youth Skills Day 2021, a group of technology industry leaders discuss the impact of the pandemic on young people, and in particular what this is going to hold for the future of the technology industry
Each year, on July 15th, the world comes together to focus attention on young people and the development of skills to support their future careers.
This year’s theme looks closely at the impact of the pandemic. With almost half of schools in the world suffering full or partial closures between March 2020 and May 2021, young people have faced challenges like never before, including delayed training schemes and rising unemployment figures.
World Youth Skills Day presents a huge opportunity for businesses, specifically in the technology industry, to ensure those with a passion for learning and innovation can gain the vocational and technical skills needed to start their careers.
So, this July 15th, we ask how can the technology industry specifically continue to encourage young people to join the sector, and speak to a number of experts in the field about their thoughts on the skills they need to do so:
Upskilling during the pandemic
Jen Rodvold, Head of Digital Ethics & Tech for Good at Sopra Steria believes that upskilling young people and providing greater educational resources will be essential to the future of the technology industry.
“The pandemic has, of course, disrupted the education of many students in the UK, as well as around the world. Now, more than ever, we must ensure that future generations are equipped with the skills they need for the future of work – one that’s increasingly being disrupted by digital. As someone working in the tech industry, however, it’s rather worrying that earlier this year we also saw a fall in the number of students choosing technology and IT subjects at GCSE level.
“Reversing this decline is not something that can occur overnight but it can be done. Educational institutions and businesses must work harder to address the issue together if we expect young adults to pursue careers in the tech field. When it comes to promoting IT subjects to young people, role models are essential to inspire the next generation – providing them with first-hand experience on what types of roles are out there and piquing their interest.
“When it comes to closing the digital skills gap, business leaders and recruiters also need to understand what kind of transferable skills, from both inside and outside their industry, can be considered from job applicants. It’s critical for businesses to accept that, while STEM education is a great foundation for learning, continuous on-the-job training is incredibly valuable. Giving young people the opportunity to pick up new skills while working allows them to learn precise business processes and level-up in specific areas.
“There is no single silver bullet solution to ensuring a steady stream of skilled and passionate individuals continue to join the tech industry, but inspiring more students to take GCSE IT is a small step in ensuring this happens, and the future of the industry as a whole.”
Sean Farrington, EVP EMEA at Pluralsight suggests providing greater, more accessible opportunities for young people post-pandemic is a great way to close the digital skills gap.
“The pandemic has generated record demand for technology skills, and the UK’s future hinges upon the ability to innovate and embrace technology –we need skilled young employees to take on roles in the industry.
“However, young people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and ongoing lockdowns, and there is a real risk of this exacerbating the tech skills gap.
“Students have faced significant challenges as a result of missing out on months of face-to-face education, and the International Labour Organisation also found that in 2020, 23% of under 25s in the UK workforce were furloughed, while 9% lost their jobs.
“On top of this, the recent Learning and Work Institute study revealed that only 18% of young people think they have the advanced technology skills that employers need.
“As we recover from the pandemic, we must provide opportunities for young people to develop the skills needed for the future of work, boosting the talent pipeline and employment overall. The government has already developed a number of plans and strategies to increase digital skills in both children and adults in recent years, but there is a role for organisations to play too.
“With technology developing at pace, the skills learnt at school or university are often out of date by the time young people enter the world of work. This means that it is crucial to offer skill development in more advanced areas once employees are bedded into their roles. Using online learning, which can be tailored to individual needs, can help to nurture talent and develop specific skills, from AI to cybersecurity. By creating a workplace culture where learning is encouraged, young people can be empowered to build on existing skills and take on new, more advanced technology roles.
“Young people know that digital skills will be important for their future careers, and the appetite for learning is there. Now’s the time for organisations to capitalise on it.”
Inclusion is essential
Liz O’Driscoll, Head of Innovation at Civica believes diversity within the industry will encourage young people to embrace a career in STEM.
“Working in the tech sector, I’ve found there is space for all sorts of creative ideas. This Youth Skills Day, it’s crucial we address the skills gap with people from various backgrounds.
“Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) careers still have a male-dominated tag and we need to increase diversity and inclusion across various sectors. To do this, we need to better showcase the outcomes of a STEM career, rather than just labelling it as ‘maths’ or ‘engineering’. We should be discussing with our young people how jobs in STEM help society to overcome massive challenges and positively impact everyone. Take the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out as a brilliant example – those young people who went into bioengineering are now helping to save millions of lives around the world.
“It could be overcoming carbon production issues, curing diseases, or improving resilience as a society to get through challenging times, such as the ongoing pandemic. STEM careers are so much more appealing to young people if they feel they could use their skills as a force for good.
“For me, STEM is all about innovation. We need to hire people from different backgrounds, who have different life experiences. That’s one of the things I love about the Bath University ART AI PHD programme which we sponsor. Its Centre for Doctoral Training actively seeks people from different backgrounds to come in and work in AI. As part of The 5% Club, Civica is committed to having 5% of its employees in ‘earn and learn’ positions (including apprentices, sponsored students and graduates on formalised training schemes). As issues across STEM industries are so complex, we need young people coming in with real diversity of thought to solve the huge and complex issues we now face.”
James Brotsos, Senior Solutions Engineer at Checkmarx believes it’s being people-focused, that encourages the best talent.
“World Youth Skills Day presents a good opportunity to discuss the still prevalent skills gap in the cyber security industry and the importance of fostering new talent. Especially after such a challenging year which is known to have stretched developers and security teams thin, it’s more pertinent than ever for our community to support young people.
“One of the great things about this sector is that there aren’t set prerequisites and there is no ‘exact’ path which professionals need to take. In fact, when you look at a typical group of security professionals, you’ll see people who started out as software developers, gaming developers, penetration-testers, bug bounty hunters and many also come from the network administration space. This is something to remember when looking for young talent today. Instead of focusing on finding the ‘complete package’, employers should focus more on the person and what transferrable skills they might have. By doing so, we’ll not only encourage those with a curiosity for cyber to join the industry, but also secure the best talent.
“Finally, it’s important to emphasise for those looking to pursue a career in this arena that they need to seize every opportunity. The most exciting and worthwhile prospects often come from unexpected places – you never know where a path might take you, even if it’s not initially what you were looking for, so give it a shot and see what happens. The result could well start you on the path to something great.”
Roisin Wherry, Internal IT & Innovation Manager at Grayce notes that whilst developing expertise in specific areas of the industry is important, future proofing careers largely comes down to having a broad set of soft skills.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely challenging for students in further and higher education, with school and university closures pushing lessons, lectures and tutorials online. I help graduates develop coding skills such as SQL and Python on the Grayce Data+ Programme, and I’ve witnessed first-hand how resilient young people have been in adapting to new ways of learning. I’ve also had to change my own teaching style to be better suited to remote working and get the most out of my home-based trainees. I found that breakout rooms on video conferencing services and screen sharing have been useful tools in the remote context, enabling individuals to share their tasks and problem solve together.
“The global health crisis has caused a huge shift in how businesses across all industries operate and we’ve seen more focus on digitalisation than ever before. While technical knowledge will of course continue to be one of the most coveted skills in business, I want to use this year’s World Youth Skills Day to remind young people that soft skills development is just as important. Expertise in a particular software or programming language can be beneficial, but the half-life of a technical skill is currently two and a half years. Those that show a curiosity and willingness to learn have a better chance of not only future-proofing their careers but also helping their organisations embed the latest technologies into their operations.”