Young people aren’t digital natives in the way employers need

12 Jun 2021, 6:00

Being a digital native for employers is very different to how young people use  their devices daily, writes Bev Jones

Generation Z is regarded as digitally enabled. They are the generation that has grown up with technology being an inherent part of their lives – in the way they communicate, socialise and access entertainment.   

So why then are so many employers struggling to find young people who are equipped with adequate levels of digital literacy? 

Through our partnership work with employers, we know that young people leaving school and college are not the digital natives we assume them to be. Yes, they have their phone attached to them all day, and many are gaming experts – but this is quite different from having the digital skills needed for employment. 

These “skills” encompass a wide range of competencies, many of which are assumed to be innate. But they are not. 

For example, communicating online is more complex than young people may think. Using the right tone and language is a skill that may not come naturally and has to be adapted to specific situations. 

Sending formal emails is a key business skill, which students need to be taught as it is such a different form of communication when compared to everyday interactions with friends.  

And the same is true when it comes to taking part in business video conferences ̶ these are dramatically different from FaceTime calls with peers. Colleges must start with these basics, as they are crucial building blocks to sound digital capability.  

Beyond the skillset for communicating efficiently online, we also need to ensure young people can keep themselves, their data and other people’s data safe. Cybersecurity is a huge industry, catalysed by the growth in online activity. Young people moving into employment must understand the importance of cyber safety, including their own wellbeing when operating in a digital world. 

Communicating online is more complex than young people may think

Technology is playing a huge part in recruitment and career development, which students also need to understand and use to their advantage. Yet they can only do this with the right training and support ahead of their journey into employment. 

Being able to use a variety of software, apps, video-conferencing technologies, and having the confidence to undergo interview and assessment centres online, are all real-life, essential skills that must be acquired. They are for the benefit of both the employer and the young person. 

FE colleges must play a leading role in ensuring young people have these skills, across the many vocational subjects they offer. 

An example of this within the construction industry can be seen at City of Glasgow College.

Construction is changing rapidly, with digital technology moving to the forefront as modern methods of construction replace more traditional ones. 

Digital design is now a requirement of government construction procurement processes. Yet this is not sufficiently reflected in current education policy, where there is a real disconnect between the skills young people need for work and the skills actually being taught. 

So building and civil engineering company Sir Robert McAlpine took its own action, working with us to establish a Career College at the City of Glasgow College. 

As part of this initiative, an employer skills board has been launched, with representatives from major construction employers such as Balfour Beatty, Morrison Construction and Cidon. 

Board members have discussed and agreed the skills, knowledge and behaviours that employers need their young recruits to be equipped with upon leaving college. The City of Glasgow College is now using this insight to re-design study programmes and develop digital skills CPD programmes for staff. 

The CPD aspect is crucial. Many FE tutors are sector-specialists but are not always given the time or opportunity to keep up to date with fast-moving industry developments. Now they are being supported to understand how technology is impacting the construction sector. 

As a result, tutors can demonstrate to students the real-life connection between digital skills and employment, contextualising the lessons being taught.  

The Skills for Jobs white paper sets out the need for employers and educators to work more closely and the huge role that digital technology will play. We must not assume students are digital natives but roll up our sleeves and upskill them now.

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One comment

  1. “So why are so many employers struggling to find young people who are equipped with adequate levels of digital literacy? ”
    Because when educators drew up a nicely-balanced draft Computing curriculum, including Digital Literacy, Information Technology and Computer Science, the Tories ignored the first two and decided it was to be all about programming!
    And the point you make underlines the discredited trope about the idea of ‘digital natives’.