I attended my first Digital Leader’s Salon in Brighton in May. This DL South East Salon brought together lead discussants Paul Wayne Gregory, the award-winning chocolatier, and Dr Doirean Wilson, of Middlesex University Business School, to talk about fostering digital talent in the South East region.
It is clear that technology has had a huge impact on how even traditional businesses operate. The day-to-day working processes of Paul Gregory’s business are becoming increasingly digital, with new digital tools available in the market, influencing many aspects of the chocolate making process including 3-D printing chocolate moulds. As an employer, therefore, he has to consider how important digitally literate employees are now to his business.
Dr Doirean Wilson spoke about the importance of a holistic approach to teaching digital. While so-called ‘digital natives’ are usually familiar with various digital tools and tend to be frequent users of social media, this does not necessarily transfer well to applying technologies in the workplace. Students at Middlesex Business School are therefore taught how to use technology to solve real-life workplace problems in order to prepare them for future careers in industry. Above all, the university tries to embed a digital learning culture that means students are encouraged to create, to solve problems, be innovative, and share ideas.
During the discussion, the point was raised that slow implementation of changes to the curriculum could mean current students’ digital knowledge will be out-of-date by the time they graduate, and would lack relevant digital skills. When curriculums are designed, are they designed with the future in mind?
However, businesses need employees with adaptable skills and a digital mind-set rather than specific knowledge of particular platforms. Employers look more for characteristics than experience because being a valuable employee in a fast-moving digital economy depends on adaptability to new digital tools. It is important to remember that technology in itself is a means to an end, and the ability to problem-solve is what employers really value.
Another problem raised was the ‘digital divide’ between older and younger generations, meaning parents are not able to help nurture their children’s digital skills due to lack of digital knowledge. A practical solution to this problem might be the implementation of a “digital curriculum” for parents. This would enable parents to stay informed and foster a dialogue between parents and educators, allowing them to work together to keep children’s digital learning on track.
The session finished with a final word from Dr Doirean. Ultimately, technology is something that everyone needs and the demand for digital skills continues to grow. Educators, parents, private businesses, and the public sector all have a role to play. In fact, the stability of business depends on it.
Anna Booth is the Digital Leaders Local Manager.