BT Group reveals the growing importance for school leavers to possess digital skills for the workplace – as new research of company bosses shows they value them just as highly as a university degree.
Nearly four in 10 (39%) UK CEOs and senior decision-makers said basic digital skills are the asset that makes a young person most employable (39%), compared to non-vocational university degrees (22%).
It comes at the time of the year when many students will be considering their options after finding out their A-Level results last week.
BT Group’s polling of business leaders suggests that students possessing basic digital skills can be as attractive to employers as having a university degree.
Nearly three quarters (72%) of UK business leaders said a person with digital skills has as good a career prospect as someone holding a degree, while 67% said basic digital literacy is the single most important skill their business seeks in young employees.
Skipping Oxbridge for ‘Toksbridge’, this TikTok generation is putting its knowledge of tech to good use and ranks highly for social media skills. Yet despite their tech knowledge, 65% of business leaders say 16-24 year-olds struggle when it comes to basic digital skills.
Over half (56%) of the businesses BT Group spoke with find young people often struggle with simple computer-based workplace tasks, such as creating a spreadsheet, writing a professional email, or operating workplace software.
Thankfully, the jump from knowing how to use a smart phone or games console to learning business-ready digital skills can be easy
Anthony Ogbanufe, 25, from South London, chose to skip university and instead enrolled on BT Group’s apprenticeship scheme, where he found his knowledge of gaming helped him to thrive as a product designer:
“Being a big gamer helped me because I could understand how things should work well for users and it gave me intuitive design insights, which was useful when I helped redesign the BT gaming page,” he said.
BT Group’s Work Ready events and its partnership with FastFutures is helping to tackle the UK’s digital skills gap by helping young people build on their experience and confidence of using tech to learn new skills that will see them succeed in the workplace.
Nearly eight out of 10 (79%) of UK business leaders said that an employee who has learnt extra digital skills ‘stands out’ among similar candidates.
Despite having good grades, Laura Jenkinson, a 22-year-old trainee accountant from Stroud, decided to skip university to start her career. She said having digital skills helped her to thrive in a role that usually requires a degree.
“It took me a while to get to grips with things but I was glad I had stuck to my guns. Being tech savvy helped me in my first position a lot – it was something I could bring to the job when I hadn’t had any experience yet,” she said.
The UK has one of the widest digital skills gaps of any developed country, which is currently estimated by the government to cost the economy as much as £63 billion a year in potential GDP 2.
Nearly 80% of business leaders said their reliance on computing skills is going to increase massively in the next few years. And for three quarters (74%) polled by BT Group, possessing real-world business-related digital skills is often as good as having a degree when it comes to hiring young people.
“While qualifications are important, they are not the be-all and end-all,” said Danielle Holmes, founder of Black Nova Designs. “Having digital skills is not just a nice-to-have, it’s a mandatory requirement. I’m not talking about becoming an expert graphic designer, I’m talking about basic skills like knowing how to use Microsoft, email management and staying safe online. You could be a mechanic or a hairdresser; in the digital age, you still need a basic tech skill set.”
BT Group’s investment in improving the UK’s digital skills is enabling its partners to offer community training designed to provide essential digital skills training for 10 million school children, families and businesses across the UK.
22-year-old Callum Emptage graduated in 2020 with a degree in classical civilisation and philosophy, but struggled to find a job in that field. He enrolled on a BT’s Data bootcamp shortly after completing the FastFutures programme and within six months was proficient in several software applications, such as Power BI and Excel, and had learnt the fundamentals of data analysis and programming.
“I always talk about [the programme] because it literally changed my life in half a year. I went from no data skills, to a job in data analysis, and it’s crazy to think about how much things have changed since I clicked on the ad for FastFutures.’
The UK faces an alarming digital skills gap, which is having a profound impact on the country’s ability to keep up with more digitally advanced countries. Many of the digital skills employers need are taught on these courses, which are available to 16-24-year-olds nationwide.
Victoria Johnson, Digital Impact and Sustainability Campaigns and Engagement Director, BT Group, said:
“Young people may feel they don’t have the skills they need to thrive in the world of work, but the jump from being tech-savvy to business-ready isn’t as big as they might think. With such a wide digital skills gap in the UK, loads of firms are seeking people with basic digital skills that can be trained to develop into roles that would traditionally have required a degree.
“At BT Group we’re proud to be supporting young people who want to build upon what they already know about tech to learn business-relevant digital skills. Armed with digital skills, brilliant careers across a huge range of industries await the smart, ambitious, talented people who will build the diverse, inclusive internet of tomorrow.”