As a parent, how do you prepare your children for a world that will operate very differently from the one we came of age in? Even the industries of today are a far cry from the ones our offspring will be seeking roles within as the rise of AI and automation is set to change the workforce, rendering some jobs and skills obsolete.
Despite the obvious influx of digital technology into many aspects of our lives, there is a worrying trend among today's parents to undervalue digital skills. According to our recent research, parents view studying computing as less important for their children than maths and English. Similarly, IT coding skills are viewed as less useful for a child's future career than literacy, numeracy, people and language skills; only 19% of parents felt IT coding skills worth cultivating.
Even more dispiriting is the gender bias when it comes to which skills are deemed useful by parents. Almost a quarter of parents thought IT coding skills were good for boys but only 16% felt the same for girls, while digital skills had value for 14% of parents of sons but only 10% of those with daughters.
Even if our children don't seek roles specifically within the IT and technology sectors, digital skills will be paramount in everything they may do - even today, 90% of occupations require digital competencies, including programming. There are also no grounds for assuming IT and digital skills are less useful for females than males, nor that they are any less capable of mastering them. In fact, there is international evidence that girls perform better academically than boys when computer science is included in the curriculum.
Thankfully, even though some parents might not yet be wise to the importance of digital skills for their daughters, industry and government is. There has been a worldwide awakening of the disparity between girls' and boys' involvement in activities that would enhance their digital skills - such as coding clubs at school. This is being touted as a reason for the shortage of women working in STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) roles - within which IT skills are key - prompting many campaigns to make these topics more appealing and accessible to girls in the hope they will pursue STEM careers.
In the UK, there are now over 5,000 coding clubs for young people within the school setting, while regional organisations such as Liverpool Girl Geeks organise tech-centric activities and workshops for females. The government is funding efforts to improve the teaching of computing and has embedded it into the national curriculum to ensure no one misses out on these crucial skills. A push to make digital skills acquisition appealing is even spreading into the toy industry, with the world's first coding robot for girls about to be launched in the US.
Such intervention is necessary for both genders to transform our children's familiarity with using digital devices into an understanding of how they work. Kids of today grow up surrounded by smartphones and tablets, with almost a quarter being given unsupervised access to a device by the age of five, but they need directed learning to equip themselves with the skills needed to survive in the tech-driven future.
With 30% of UK jobs expected to be replaced by automation by 2030, parents must do all they can to ensure their children have the tools to programme the robots or be replaced by them. Beyond job security, equipping our children with digital and IT skills could give them more varied and lucrative career options, as experts have suggested that over 75% of companies face a digital skills shortage, with 84% recognising that these skills are more important to their enterprise now than two years ago. What will the percentages be like when our children leave school?
Tomorrow's workers will need a variety of skills to navigate the world and succeed within it. Strong digital skills and programming will be just as critical as creativity and communication to fill the gaps left behind by AI. Let's give our children the best chance we can regardless of their gender, encouraging them to gain a wide range of skills and experience, within arts as well as STEM subjects.
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