Ignore our digital natives at your peril


The recent report from the Department of Work and Pensions shows that the Government’s Youth Contract hasn’t yet had the impact needed to tackle youth unemployment. I believe it’s now time to ask what more can be done to help this country’s unemployed young people into work?

With over one million young people still out of work, youth unemployment is one of the biggest issues facing our society. We know that economic growth depends on the digital economy, which is estimated to be worth over £1 billion. Today’s youth community has grown up in the digital world, and have in abundance the very native skills we need to help pull us out of recession. Yet, they are at risk of becoming a lost generation.

UK businesses recently valued the unused digital skills of young people at £6.7 billion. Yet, fewer than one quarter (24 per cent) were planning to offer a first time job or on-the-job training to a young person in the coming months.

I don’t believe that young people lack the fundamental skills for the workplace, or are a risky employment choice. Rather, businesses are failing to recognise and capitalise on the one million digital natives who are staring them in the face. Today’s school leavers and graduates have a set of skills that large swathes of workers don’t – a third of young people are confident in at least one digital skill, including web design, coding and social media expertise. It’s worrying that we’re not doing more to nurture these latent digital skills and encourage young people to be confident in the value of their skills to prospective employers.

At the same time all businesses, big and small, need to take some responsibility for getting young people into work. It’s academic whether or not businesses have signed up to the Youth Contract – all businesses have a role to play in supporting young people on their journey to work.

At O2, 20% of our workforce is under the age of 25 and we’re privileged to see first-hand the benefits that young people bring to our business. We also know that young people are hungry for opportunities – we recently received over 2,000 applications for our latest instalment of 60 intern and apprenticeship places. To meet this demand, we’ve opened up an extra 50 graduate roles and 27 apprenticeship places – and we will continue to do more.

But this is more than just a numbers game. It’s about providing quality work experience, mentoring opportunities, internships or apprenticeships – and we can all play our part. Undoubtedly, those businesses that do the legwork now will win out. And that means looking to young people for whom digital literacy is in their DNA. Overlook or undervalue this generation at your peril.

O2 is currently offering 50 graduate roles and 25 apprenticeship placements.

About the Author

The Corner
The Corner has a team of on-the-ground reporters in capital cities ranging from New York to Beijing. Their stories are edited by the teams at the Spanish magazine Consejeros (for members of companies’ boards of directors) and at the stock market news site Consenso Del Mercado (market consensus). They have worked in economics and communication for over 25 years.

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