Why Digital Skills should be top of the class in today’s schools

What will the jobs market be like in 5 years’ time (or even in 1 years’ time) – given the rapid changes that are going on right now?

Robotics and Intelligent Automation are becoming mainstream, chatbots and avatars are taking over call centres and new fintech banks such as Monzo and Starling are turning the traditional banking market on its head.  People of all ages will have to start acquiring new skills and approaches to working if they want an interesting, sustainable and well-paid job.

It’s a fact that digital is transforming the jobs market.  People with digital skills and knowledge are in high demand and are commanding high salaries.  Data is the major differentiator – and understanding how to gain insight from the increasingly huge volumes of data that we are all generating is crucial to every business right now.  Universities and many Financial Services organisations have already started investing in digital and data.  There are a plethora of courses and training available – but until recently – digital wasn’t really taught in schools – leaving young people who didn’t choose (or couldn’t afford) to go to university woefully under skilled and unprepared for the new reality of employment in today’s demanding jobs market.

The first Digital School of Excellence

That’s why it’s great to see Newbattle High School in Midlothian launching the first Scottish-based Digital School of Excellence.  As well as teaching digital skills, Newbattle will be one of the first schools to also include Data Science as a core part of its curriculum. The Scottish Government, Edinburgh University’s School of Informatics as well as local businesses like Sopra Steria are investing in this landmark Digital School as they know it’s the only way to get the right ‘talent’ and skills into the jobs market.  The school doesn’t just teach digital and data skills – it also encourages its pupils to be entrepreneurial, to challenge the status quo and to understand the creation process of great products as well as instilling the right skills and techniques to ‘sell’ their ideas to a sceptical and highly demanding audience.

The Unified Schools Programme

In Scotland, the financial services industry is working on its ‘Unified Schools Programme’ under the leadership of Scottish Financial Enterprise (SFE) and led by HSBC’s Colin Halpin. It’s an exciting project with a joint message about why financial services is an exciting, progressive and diverse industry to work in. The programme is focused on promoting the sector as THE digitally focused and customer centric place to be for young people, highlighting the advantages a career in digital can offer.

An SFE pilot project involving Newbattle High School and Queensferry High School kicked off in November 2018 to give young people opportunities to experience financial services through short placements. SFE members and Skills Development Scotland are fully supporting the initiative.  Why?  Big business knows it needs fresh talent and realises it needs to promote the financial services industry as a great place to work, highlighting the multiple opportunities that the sector can deliver if it’s to get the creative and talented people it needs to be future ready. There really is a job for everyone in financial services – and for young people with a positive attitude, creativity, enthusiasm and focus, it can be a fantastic first step into the world of work.

I used to be concerned for today’s young people facing an uncertain future in a demanding jobs market.  Now I can see exciting new career opportunities where the education system, with support from government and industry helps the next generation to think differently, to be brave and to create ideas that will shape our future.  Scotland is setting the pace for change – the question is – when will the rest of the UK catch up and put digital skills top of the agenda?

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