Earlier this week, the National Audit Office highlighted a gap in the number of digitally skilled experts needed to tackle the UK’s fight against cyber crime, suggesting it could take up to 20 years to address the deficit.  Whilst it’s encouraging that the NAO has acknowledged this, in reality, the gap in this sector is just one part of a bigger digital skills challenge facing our nation.

There are hundreds of thousands of unemployed young people in the UK today.  Having grown up with the internet, this is an untapped community of digital natives whose skills can add value to business, regardless of sector or industry. They hold the key to our economic recovery - but as it stands, there’s not enough being done to harness them.

Our own research shows that the unused digital skills sitting with this community of unemployed young people is valued by UK businesses at £6.7 billion. The study highlighted businesses are in vital need of the digital skills within this generation, including web design, coding and social media expertise. The research also found that businesses expect a fifth (21 per cent) of their growth over the next three years to come through digital channels.

So what should be done now to address this digital skills deficit?  It’s time all employers start looking to the very people who have the skills which will help to fuel our economy. Whilst sectors are right to focus on their own specific needs, they must also collaborate with Government and other businesses, to address our digital skills needs and gaps across the board.  Britain’s future competiveness is currently being limited by sectors working in silos: addressing short-term, sector specific skills deficits in isolation will not unlock the full growth potential of the emerging digital economy.   

All businesses, big and small, and Government have a role to play in unlocking this talent and helping these young people on their journey into work, whether through training, mentoring, work experience or apprenticeships.  At the same time, we shouldn’t just focus on the number of opportunities, it’s about the quality of those opportunities - and any business can play a small but invaluable part in that.

Equally, we need to act now to up-skill today’s young people and nurture a workforce fit for the future.  After all, ten years ago, who would have predicted that future jobs would have included the social media strategist, blogger or the app developer? With the fast-paced evolution of the digital world, we need to foster this generation’s to fit jobs that don’t even exist yet.

As a nation, we need to address our digital skills deficit by giving young people the opportunity to grow their confidence and capitalise on their digital skills and knowledge. Only then will we build a workforce fit for the future, and see young people, business and the British economy thrive.

By Ann Pickering, HR Director at O2