The UK marketing industry needs to work with schools to inspire children to select digital careers
The UK marketing industry needs to work with schools to inspire children to select digital careers
A view from Hugh Milward

Digital skills for a digital generation; how we're letting the UK's young people down

We are on the edge of a digital skills desert as the future talent, currently still at school, isn't being inspired to choose the digital...

Why is it that the majority of UK school children not choosing a career in digital?

Today, every single industry you can think of, from pharmacy to construction to journalism, has digital skills implicit in the job description. But on top of this, in the last few years a raft of fresh new roles in the digital industry have emerged, entirely separate from more ‘traditional’ positions. These roles are incredibly exciting, offering enormous scope, creativity, and personal and financial rewards. So why is it that the majority of UK school children not choosing a career in digital?

Brink of a digital skills desert

We are on the brink of a digital skills desert – careers guidance in schools is woefully outdated, and while there have been some important and welcome steps taken to update the curriculum, such as the recent introduction of computer science on the National Curriculum, there is still a considerable distance to go. The digital industry is predicted to be one of the main drivers of the UK’s economy over the next decade, and it is essential that we make it an appealing prospect for young people.

Getting schools together with marketers

In light of this, the British Interactive Media Association (BIMA) recently called a summit with leading figures from Google, Microsoft and the BBC to discuss the issue. BIMA’s Digital Day, which takes place on 17 November 2015, is one of the initiatives that will allow schools to work with digital agencies to raise awareness of digital career opportunities.

They are a generation fantastically adept at using digital technology, so the next logical step is to show them how easily they can create, as well as use, exciting technology

As part of the BBC’s ‘Make It Digital’ initiative, we at Microsoft have helped to create the micro:bit miniature wearable computer, which will be distributed free to every 11-12 year old child in the UK, and will allow them to explore, in a very tangible way, their own creative and computing potential. After all, they are a generation fantastically adept at using digital technology, so the next logical step is to show them how easily they can create, as well as use, exciting technology.

More to digital than coding

But as we all know, the difference between a successful app and one that flops is very often not in the way it’s coded – it’s in the creative flair, lateral thinking and problem-solving mentality that young people have in abundance. This is why it’s essential that the UK’s school children understand that there is so much more to digital than just coding. Just as the vast field of chemistry does not begin and end with the Bunsen burner, the coding element is just a starting point – the ‘benchwork’, if you like - from which to allow originality to flourish within the digital arena.

The modern world of work requires a mix creative and technical skills.  This means complementing the highly progressive decision to include computer science on the curriculum, with an accompanying broadening of pupil’s skills to things like business management, media, graphic design, creative direction, and so on. While we and other companies have stepped in to create teaching resources, there is still not enough understanding of the fundamentals of computer science, such as what should be taught and how, what should be assessed and how achievement should be examined.  Teachers face mounting pressures on their time – with already packed workdays, there are very real challenges around how they are expected to teach an entirely new curriculum and make it relevant to the breadth of application successful and rounded students need to know about.

The modern world of work requires a mix creative and technical skills

The UK needs a collaborative approach

However, in the age of austerity we currently face, the reality is that the government is not going to fund the support around curriculum changes single-handedly. And unfortunately, for everything we ask the government to do, we must ask them to remove funding from something else. So what the UK needs now is a collaborative approach, involving shared responsibility between players in the digital industry, schools and government – and the latter needs to understand that it has a powerful role as an enabler for things to start happening.

There are companies like the ones involved in Digital Day who are determined to make their own mark in an area where the state is not prioritizing the required funding. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – these digital leaders know far better than the Department for Education about what digital skills really mean, and what is required for students looking to get their foot in the door. But it does explain why initiatives like Digital Day are so important.