Getting to grips with all things digital

Mar 2, 2016

As a social enterprise that works with schools and young people – with an ambition to help young people to create a better future for themselves by unearthing and nurturing their interests, aptitudes and passions – we are constantly on the look-out for changes in the economy, trends in skills gaps, opportunities for young people to do something real and ways to innovate and evolve enterprise education.

The big focus right now is digital, and let’s face it, it’s EVERYWHERE…engrained across all sectors; farming, healthcare, transport, entertainment, culture, you name it, digital is there somewhere. But as digital natives, are young people connected to this and do they see it as an opportunity? Do they understand how vital it is, not just as consumers and day-to-day users but as a fundamental part of their future? Furthermore, are schools prepared to respond to this digital landscape in a way that will open doors and guide young people through?

In a recent speech at the NEF’s annual Innovisions conference, Professor Sa’ad Medhat, of the Innovation Institute warned that whilst digital was ‘accelerating the pace of innovation across all sectors’, this presents ‘enormous challenges for our trainers and education institutions’. With a stark warning that in this country we will face the ‘largest digital skills gap in Europe by 2020’, Professer Medhat cautioned the UK that if it is ‘to remain competitive we need to significantly expand our investment in digital training for the next generation.’

At RIO we believe it’s essential to give young people the opportunity to explore the digital economy and make a valuable contribution. Plymouth is leading the way in investing in digital developments like the Devonport Market Hall and pioneering approaches to open data and we want young people to be part of that. It’s our intention to create a training ground to develop the leaders of our time.

At a recent open data play day, which was run in partnership with Plymouth City Council and iDAT, we introduced young people to the concept of open data, digital sector and gave them space to create ideas and experiment with new technology. The discussion was stimulating, eye-opening and sparked amazing ideas including using data to monitor CO2 usage and creating a points system for communities to spend on environmentally friendly objects for every low emission! The event demonstrated how young people definitely have a place in making a valuable contribution to the digital agenda.

So how can we create a secure and skilled workforce or the future? We know that 16-18 year olds have issues getting part-time jobs and often these jobs are not linked their future. There is also more pressure for young people to have experience and part-time jobs are seen as a key component to being ‘work ready’. There is a real opportunity for employers to open up part-time or freelance roles that will free up capacity and enable young people to apply their skills. This will give them the experience they need to evidence their skills using digital but also help them explore what it is they’re really interested in and passionate about; it will help them create real connections with people who could influence their future.

Our digital world and the flexibility of work patterns opens up a world of possibilities, be it through freelance contracts that free up capacity and help a young person develop the vital skills needed for a digital economy, part time roles with flexible hours, real commissions for burgeoning entrepreneurs (particularly social enterprise of course!), young ‘ideas’ panels much like Plymouth City Council see the young students we worked during the play day – inventors with boundless energy and a natural ability to use, test and advance the digital economy.