Around 20 creatives, academics, recruiters and business leaders met on 28th July at the BBC, MediaCity in Salford, in response to a statement produced by Digital Leaders Chair Rachel Neaman, that young “digital natives” are not as savvy as we think. This discussion was one of several had recently, concerned to address a large skills gap, with a fear that up to 80% of digital creative jobs required by 2017 will be unable to be filled by those coming through the education system.
The notion of digital natives has been fairly widely debunked within the academic community, and this was discussed briefly by the group, before returning to the core question of how do we turn the visible enthusiasm for social media amongst ‘the young’ into viable employability skills. Within the digital industry the range of roles has proliferated, budgets have become tighter, with a keenness for clearer ROI, particularly because digital is so trackable. More money is available for those who can prove they have spent well, beyond awareness to generate sales. Consumer expectations are rising, in terms of speed and content, and agencies expectations of their staff is rising alongside this.
Conversations need to go beyond communications, as we are now in a digital culture. Speaking to those in the industry, it appears that most ‘fell’ into it, as it wasn’t something highlighted by schools careers services or the curriculum. The industry is not seen as a serious career by many parents and peers, so the industry needs to come together, explain itself more, offer experience days, and influence the influencers, as routes into the industry are wide ranging and varied.
In the contemporary era, people now have computers and productive devices with them on the go in the form of their mobile phones. Taster sessions held with teenagers indicated that they loves to make games, develop apps and write stories, but think that the process takes too long. Inspiring them to get involved moves the skills up the funnel as they are inspired to think, create and develop, and get hyper-speed feedback via Facebook likes and other social media. The need for STEM to become STEAM, by adding Arts as an essential subject, was highlighted, as we need the creative ideas to envision a new world. Research has indicated that over the past couple of years children have moved on from being most proud of their school/family, to being proud of their imaginations. Industry is a scary place full of adults who don’t appear to be having any fun, which doesn’t recognise the new ideas that younger people may bring with them.
The conversation was very wide ranging, challenging the notion that students are innovators (because there’s too much pressure in a functionalist curriculum). Employers are observing problematic behaviours amongst those applying for jobs – identikit bland CVs which don’t demonstrate creativity or passion, and a certain ‘entitlement attitude’ with no recognition that ‘the good stuff’ (salary/roles) needs to be earned. One agency looks for online portfolios that highlight quirky stuff, and asks candidates ‘What one idea would get you fired?’, because creativity is a risk, and our culture has become very risk-averse.
The problem was seen to start much earlier than university, but there was recognition that school curricula are already overloaded. The debate focused upon the need for disruptive thinking, including a challenge to the ‘overwork ethic’, and the importance of play (let’s not all sneer at Pokemon Go, but question what we can learn from it), and the need for a lifelong learning approach, especially as children will probably be doing jobs that don’t even exist yet. These wider skills develop in ‘play’ may be what make applicants stand out. There is also a need to educate the world that digital is a serious industry, and not just ‘playing with Facebook’, but also that this may be about creative rather than technological skills.
Those growing up need confidence that the knowledge that they have can change companies, but also that they have things to learn. They also need to be aware that, like top professional footballers, there will only be a few online as successful as PewDiePie. The industry and educators need to consider what they can do to inform and educate the world. Industry needs to work together, highlight what roles and opportunities there are. Educators need to ensure that their curricula are relevant and up to date, responsive and engaged with industry.
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has 19+ years of experience. Trained as a mass communications historian, writing the original history of Keep Calm and Carry On, she is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University, and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University. She has a particular interest in digital culture and faith and voluntary organisations. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of ‘Raising Children in a Digital Age’ (Lion Hudson, 2014), which has been featured on The One Show, BBC News, Steve Wright in the Afternoon, and in the Daily Telegraph, The Church Times, and in many other publications.