Nigel Vaz: Digital training should help develop a different world view

On Digital Day, Bima ambassador and SapientNitro European managing director Nigel Vaz looks at how we can give young people the digital skills that match the needs of employers.

The UK is an epicentre of excellence for technical innovation and creativity in every sector – from gaming to marketing and fashion to fintech. It is seen as a crucible for the creative industries, which were valued at £77bn in total last year according DCMS figures. The Government also estimates that the digital sector contributes £105bn in gross value added (GVA) to the economy.

For the UK to realise and sustain a better future, however, we need to be vigilant to any looming talent gap. Projections suggest that businesses will need 750,000 more digitally-skilled workers by 2017; I know, from the experience we have hiring at SapientNitro, that it can be a challenge to find people with the right skills, aptitudes and attitudes to work in a digitally focused business.

Any solution to this challenge lies in understanding that ‘digital skills’ and the skills needed by digital businesses may not, without intervention, be a direct fit. Growth for UK plc depends on better educating young people so that their digital skills properly match the needs of employers.

As the digital economy increasingly becomes synonymous with the national economy, and disruption is prevalent in every category, we must be wary of any narrow definition of digital as it pertains to the education and training of young adults. Instead, we must send the right signals about future career options and properly illuminate the many and varied pathways that the next generation of talent can follow to make itself relevant and valuable.

Digital does not just mean coding. While coding is a digital skill to which all children should be introduced, what’s more important is that they are equipped to make a mental connection between the amazing digital world that they inhabit every day and their own potential and ability to create and make things happen in that world. For them and for the UK to prosper, they must be able participate as producers in the digital economy rather than just consumers.

Digital training should move beyond coding and formal study and help a person to be open and receptive to new ideas and equip them with the tools to problem-solve and troubleshoot. Dynamic digital businesses are desperate for creative recruits who can step outside the boundaries of received wisdom, identify inefficiencies in the marketplace and offer solutions that combine technology and smart thinking.

Younger children have brilliant ideas because they are, as yet, unfettered by conventional modes of thinking. We want people in our organisations who will instinctively challenge the status quo and who are never constrained by ‘a right way’ of doing things.

The risk of a narrow definition of digital in education and training is that we develop future generations that are able to do things in a prescribed right way, as opposed to challenging convention and finding their way to the right sets of things. We need people who are able and willing to learn, unlearn and relearn; who strive to do the right things and who ultimately make a greater contribution.

Every business in every sector wants such people. The right kind of digital training will help to cultivate this working approach and ensure it is underpinned by knowledge of how to apply creative solutions in the real world. We are already able to ideate, design, prototype and test ideas without taking the same risks as would once have been necessary. One of the great benefits of a world that is being disrupted, and where convergence between the physical and digital environments is ever greater, is that has created a safer environment relative to failure. Technology has made it is easier than it has ever been to ideate, build, share and improve.

Bima's mission is to help encourage young adults to think about how to equip themselves for the future workplace. This is a year-round project for Bima, but there is a special focus on Digital Day, today (17 November), when Bima members partner with and visit schools to explain, inspire and excite pupils about the work that digital businesses do.

Our advice for young adults working on classroom projects is to keep trying and attempting new things. Schools provide the resources and the time you may not enjoy in later life to explore, fail and try again. Our wide definition of digital allows for the widest applicability. Discover your passions and then view them through a digital lens; a person who is driven by a love of literature and story-telling may have the potential to be a fantastic film-maker, able to use all the amazing digital tools now available.

We do not want to miss the opportunity to train a generation of digital natives in a way that will benefit both businesses and individuals, but this will only happen if we work in tandem with government to provide the right classroom culture, environment and role models. If we can do this then the UK will be more certain of fulfilling a brilliant digital destiny.

Nigel Vaz is a Bima ambassador and senior vice president and European managing director at SapientNitro

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