Companies must work with the UK’s tech-savvy NEETs

Ronan Dunne
YET again, figures from the Department for Education show a rise in the number of young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs). But conversely, new research this week reveals that the unused digital skills sitting within the community of over 1m unemployed young people are valued at £6.7bn by UK businesses. The same research also found that UK businesses are expecting a fifth of their growth over the next three years to come through digital channels.

We know that economic growth depends on the digital economy. We also know that today’s youth has grown up in a digital world, with no knowledge of an age before the internet. Young people have in abundance the native skills we need to help pull us out of recession, yet they are at risk of becoming a lost generation.

Today’s school leavers have a set of skills that large swathes of workers don’t – a third of young people are confident in at least one digital skill, including web design, coding and social media expertise. So it’s worrying that we’re not doing more to nurture these latent digital skills, and encourage young people to make the most of the fact that they have grown up in a digital world, confident in the value of their skills to prospective employers.

At the same time businesses also need to do more. Over three-quarters (77 per cent) of businesses acknowledge that young people have digital skills in abundance. But fewer than one quarter (24 per cent) are planning to offer a first-time job, or an on-the-job training role, to a young person in the coming months.

Over 20 per cent of our workforce is under the age of 25, so we’re privileged to see first-hand the benefits that young people bring to our business. We are also more than doubling the number of apprenticeship and graduate positions we offer in the UK.

All businesses, big and small, need to take some responsibility for getting young people into work. But this is more than just a numbers game. Rather, it’s about providing quality work experience, mentoring opportunities, internships or apprenticeships. We can all play our part. Undoubtedly, those businesses that do the legwork now will win out in the future. And that means looking to young people for whom digital literacy is in their DNA. Overlook or undervalue this generation at your peril.

Today’s youth has an important role to play in making Britain truly digital. But at the moment not enough is being done to harness this latent digital talent. We need to see more businesses giving young people the opportunity to grow their confidence and capitalise on their skills and knowledge. Only then will we see young people, business and the British economy thrive as it should.

Ronan Dunne is chief executive of O2.

O2 is putting 3,000 young people through bite size sessions where they can try their hand at digital technology activities. It is also hosting Campus Party in Berlin this week where young people are being invited to write a plan for Europe's digital future.