We're all aware of the vicious circle of (un)employment: you need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience. For young people, this conundrum stalls careers, causes financial problems and evokes a sense of social exclusion that can be hugely damaging for the individual and the wider community.
This isn't purely anecdotal. The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show that more than 11% of those aged 16-24 are not in education, employment or training (NEET) - the equivalent of 800,000 young people. Additionally, a BCC survey found that 88% of UK firms didn't think school leavers were ready for employment because they lacked work place skills and work experience.
Into this mix we can add the widely-reported shortfall of workers with digital skills. With the rapid pace of development and a serious upswing in demand for digital skills in all industries, the UK (like much of the world) faces a serious skills shortage that has huge implications for the economy and society. Research from O2 suggested the UK needs 2.3 million workers with digital skills to reach its digital potential by 2020. Three in four UK companies report a digital skills shortage among their employees (BCC, 2017), and the government has labelled the situation a 'crisis', with the digital skills gap costing the economy an estimated £63 billion a year in lost GDP.
The irony of all this is that many of our NEET youngsters are well-versed in digital technology, having grown up with tablets, mobiles and computers as part of daily life. Many of those aged 16-24 have instinctive digital skills that the older generation lacks but desperately needs to bring their business, however large or small, into the digital age.
For us, the solution to this is obvious. Train young people with the skills to turn their digital savviness into professional application, then match them with an SME in need of guidance in all things digital. The young person gains employment experience and applicable skills; the small business gains valuable digital insight that could transform their business. It also serves as a confidence boost for both parties as they both struggle to remain relevant in a fast-changing world.
To play our part in addressing this issue, we have launched a new programme called Nominet Digital Neighbourhood, working with 18-24 year olds and SMEs across the country. Having previously run a pilot along the same lines, we have discovered that training and work opportunities need to fit around existing commitments to make the process as easy as possible, and that candidates being trained and sharing their skills should be paid for their time, commitment and effort. We also recognise that work experience is crucial to securing a job and embarking on a career, bringing the supply to the demand to support individuals and the wider economy.
Operating for public benefit is one of Nominet's core aims and the Digital Neighbourhood project has the potential to offer great benefit to young people, fledgling SMEs and the economy as a whole. We've invested almost £400,000 into this initiative because we believe in the power of digital skills to transform the lives of individuals and businesses. We also believe that everyone deserves a chance to succeed in a digital world. Modern technology may be transforming the jobs market, but the challenges remain age-old - we need experience to get experience and ultimately prosper.