Jo Morfee (pictured)
Generation Z are facing big challenges as we emerge from the pandemic. Yet, they are the generation that will be expected to help us rebuild. What are the key skills they will need?
One of the key enablers during the pandemic was technology; without it we would have been truly isolated, and many more businesses would have ceased trading. Technology has permeated every aspect of our lives in a fundamental way. It follows that technical skills are in high demand. The tech sector is still recruiting, whilst others are in decline.
This is interesting when you consider that currently in schools, digital skills are not given the bandwidth they deserve. Nationally, only 11% of pupils take Computer Science1. Outside of that, subject there is a patchy offer of Design and Technology, Creative iMedia and a spattering of digital skills within other subjects. But nothing like what you would expect, given that these skills are vital.
Plugging the gap
It is estimated that youth employment could rise to over 1 million as a direct result of ‘corona class 2020’2. There’s a void in the curriculum, but also a lack of awareness of the careers available in the tech sector; not helped by the fact that the sector evolves so rapidly. Many young people currently in school could end up in jobs that do not even exist yet. That’s why there’s been a rise in the informal education offering to plug the gap.
There is also an acute lack of gender diversity within Computer Science students; nationally under 20% are female. To tackle this, we run digital skills programmes for girls and non-binary students aged 13-16, designed to equip them with core skills. During the pandemic this became an online offering, extending our reach to students across the UK and partnering with organisations such as the Princes Trust to provide devices and dongles – ensuring equal access for all.
It is estimated that youth employment could rise to over 1 million as a direct result of ‘corona class 2020’.
Gen Z can help solve our problems
We asked students to solve real world problems relating to COVID-19 using technology. We were astounded by the results. The majority of our students chose to solve problems relating to the older generation. For instance, increased isolation and vulnerability within communities of those over 60. This filled us with hope for the future! One student came up with the idea to supply older people with VR headsets to meet their family in a real-time virtual environment. Another student presented us with an app which linked older people to neighbours in their area.
It was clear that the students were motivated by this project-based learning (PBL) approach; given a real-world problem and context they were committed to helping find the solution. Their ideas were as solid as any that a tech company would generate.
Improving social mobility
Digital has the potential to improve social mobility too. Many of the young people we work with are from low-income families, living in disadvantaged communities across Liverpool and Manchester, and as a result they may not aspire to go to University or even leave their locality. What is wonderful to observe is that, through our programmes, they realise that they can go and work for the BBC in Salford, or for Liverpool Football Club. It is transformational.
If we truly want to build back better, we must involve the next generation. They have so much give and yet they stand to lose the most in the years to come. Neglecting the opportunities to act would risk damaging both the education of future generations and our economic prosperity as a nation.
1 Royal Society report | 2 Edge Report April 2020