The importance of improving the tech literacy of the next generation

A new report into tech literacy, backed by BT and the consulting group Accenture, predicts that the UK’s GDP growth could be boosted by £11 billion – if the next generation are properly trained and fully tech literate.

However, the paper highlights that 40% of the generation of emerging workers currently fail to understand the impact that tech will have on their future jobs.

The potential that tech has to reduce economic disadvantage has been well documented. Studies have suggested that 500 million people could be lifted out of poverty through global internet inclusion. The increase in global economic activity that this would bring could amount to more than $6 trillion.

But, while the potential is massive and the figures are not to be sniffed at, progress is slow. The Good Things Foundation, Britain’s leading digital inclusion charity, reported in 2017 that 7.8 million people in the UK do not use the internet at all. A further 7.4 million are described as “limited” in their internet use.

In short, major changes are needed if the full potential of digital technology is to be realised.

The BT/Accenture study gathered data from 4,000 16-24 year olds, as well as 1,000 ‘Generation Xers’ (41-50 year olds) to offer a point of comparison. Generation X workers are clear about the value of tech confidence and knowledge. On average, a £10,000 pa ‘tech literacy wage premium’ is seen. The level of this premium is likely to be even higher for the emerging workforce. Indeed, if young people were to improve their tech skills – and these skills could be matched with suitable jobs – the salary increase this would bring would add £11 billion to GDP by 2022.

The emerging workforce are predominantly confident tech users. After all, they have grown up with computers and the internet. This means that young people tend to have a strong base to build on when it comes to tech knowledge.

Tech literacy will bring new opportunities for the next generation

If the computer literacy of the next generation improves accordingly then most young people believe that it will bring them great financial rewards. The top performers (those who are ‘expert’ or ‘creative’ tech users) expect future salaries to be 20% higher than those who describe themselves as ‘competent’.

Only 60% of respondents to the study appreciate that technology will change the very nature of entire industries in the next five years, or the wide range of jobs that emerging workers will be competing for as a result.

A worrying sign from the report is that there appears to be a certain ambivalence felt from young people about the importance of tech skills. A sizeable minority do not view tech knowledge as the way to get ahead career-wise. Similarly, they do not seem to fully appreciate either the opportunities that such skills bring, or just how essential they will actually become in the future.

Changes to the school curriculum has seen a greater focus on coding, but it is important that creative problem-solving based on digital capability is also on the agenda if we are to see tech literacy improve as it needs to in the coming years.

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