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Why even Digital Natives need Training to Lead Digital Transformation

Chris Ashworth, Head of Public Benefit at Nominet, considers why employers cannot assume Generation Z won’t need digital skills training

Within two years at least 133 million new roles will be generated as a result of new divisions of labour between humans, machines and algorithms. The World Economic Forum posed this overwhelming prospect back in 2018 and the tide of technological disruption has not slowed since.

This puts the next generation in the unenviable position of preparing for jobs that do not exist yet, or perhaps even desiring a job that will no longer exist.

It is not unique for a generation to face a changing demand for skills, but the pace of this disruption is beyond anything seen since the industrial revolution. Worse for ‘Generation Z’ compared to those before them, is the expectations that come with being a digital native.

Baby boomers, Generation X, Millennials – these are generations of ‘digital nomads’ who lived through evolving technological ages; from analogue to digital, offline to online, dial-up to 5G, they have experience of both cultures. Generation Z on the other hand, are digital natives. They have grown up with smartphones, tablets and social media, and so you would be forgiven for thinking they have it all sussed out.

But simply being a digital native will no better prepare a young person today to work in our future industries than being an English native would prepare one for becoming a playwright.

We are now seeing a generation of digital natives being led by generations of digital nomads, who simply expect the younger group to walk into jobs in Machine Learning, Digital Transformation and AI, while continuing to teach them the same skills that were relevant for analogue age.

This is leading to a growing digital skills gap that is leading businesses to struggle in filling their increasingly more technical roles. We must be prepared to implement innovative solutions to address this stark divide, with the CBI citing how poor access to digital skills as one of the biggest barriers to digital transformation and business growth. According to Accenture, the UK economy will miss out on more than £140bn of GDP growth by failing to address this.

Currently 11.9 million UK adults lack the necessary skills to participate in the digital economy. We need to tackle this crisis and guarantee all young people have the competencies required to fully participate in our digital society.

Businesses can – and must –  play a pivotal role in ensuring this is the case and will of course benefit from catalysing this change. Research from the Open University found that two-thirds of 18-35-year-olds would be receptive to more digital training from their employers, who have the opportunity to take charge of their own destiny and ensure they have the best workforce – and one with the right skills for the 21st century.

One route to achieving this is for businesses to partner with organisations to build mutually beneficial relationships; a collaboration that will help companies to understand what motivates their employees and the skills they need to flourish in the workplace.

These partnerships must be innovative in their approach, and need to move beyond the traditional approach of training hubs and education centres. They need to break-down barriers and develop an engaging approach that works for the younger generation.

One roadmap is This Is How, a collaboration between Nominet and Livity. It’s a digital learning platform and podcast series that aims to spark curiosity about the breadth of future opportunities available, how to get started in pursuing a career in the digital sphere. Each podcast unveils the different journeys people have taken to forge a successful career in the sector.

The hope is that this approach will provide an insight into 82% of advertised roles today that require digital skills, while informing young people about the skills they need to take on these positions. In turn, this will help the UK to thrive as a vibrant digital economy.

We need to go above and beyond to nurture the digital skills of the next generation. While the next generations are constantly connected, with their digital identities almost becoming an extension of their physical ones, this does not mean we should rest on our laurels. A collaborative and innovative approach is needed to ensure that 133 million new roles are filled by 133 million people with the satisfactory skills.