Why We Should Invest In Young People’s Digital Skills

April 18, 2018

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By Anna Grant, Senior Policy and Development Officer, Carnegie UK Trust

Young people are not ‘Digital Natives’

The recent ‘data’ headlines that have dominated the media in the last few weeks highlight that even the most digitally confident among us can be taken by surprise at the evolving knowledge and skill set needed to be proficient, safe and secure online. The resulting call for action comes not just for a better understanding of social media settings and an understanding of the implications of our actions online, but the need to develop the digital skills of the nation as a whole.

When solutions are imagined however, young people are rarely at the forefront of this need. There continues to be a pervasive assumption that growing up in a ‘digital age’ has given today’s young people the innate ability to safely, securely and productively navigate the online world.

However, research highlights that digital skills are both actively and passively developed through ongoing access, support and training. Whilst these opportunities are abundant for many young people, there are as many as 300,000 young people in the UK who require alternative approaches and further support to develop their digital abilities[1]. Young people who have increased risk and vulnerability are even more likely to suffer digital exclusion and the negative implications of the digital divide[2].

We must also remember that this is not a binary issue. A young person may be highly proficient in a particular digital area, have access to technology and be an avid social media user. However, as with any digital user, this does not guarantee they have the skills or confidence to actively update their privacy settings, recognise targeted advertising, understand what appropriate content to post is, or more widely, be able to use the internet to search effectivity, critically assess the information they are consuming or access necessary online services. Even when we reference ‘access’ to technology, we need to be conscious that this does not equate to a parity of access across all tech. Many young people are ‘mobile-only’, without regular access to a laptop or similar device which can further impact how and which digital spaces are utilised[3]. Given the potentially limited number of platforms young people are using, issues also arise around a lack of skills and confidence to use alternative services or adapt easily when given new tools such as in a work environment. Though we are conscious that this deficit based language can be limiting, and solutions must start by building on the skills, interests, and access that young people already possess.

It is undeniable that the world we live in is becoming digitised at an unprecedented rate and those that do not have the broad set of skills to thrive in that environment are at risk of being left behind both economically and socially.

We need to recognise and respond to the fact that this includes young people.

#NotWithoutMe Digital Inclusion Accelerator

This challenge is why the Carnegie UK Trust launched #NotWithoutMe, a programme to promote positive practice, policy and research around digital inclusion approaches with ‘vulnerable’ young people. #NotWithoutMe is focused on closing the digital divide for 11-25 year olds by developing their basic digital skills, resilience, confidence, access and critical understanding and last year published ‘A digital world for all?’.

As part of this programme, the #NotWithoutMe Accelerator opened for applications in March 2018. The purpose of the Accelerator is to allow organisations the time, resources and support from peers and experts to develop their approaches to delivering digital inclusion projects with ‘vulnerable’ young people.

During the #NotWithoutMe Accelerator organisations will be supported to develop, critique and refine their approaches with the input of valued sector experts. The #NotWithoutMe Accelerator will deliver a mixture of offline and online support, running from July 2018 to December 2018, including six development workshops. The workshops will provide participants with increased knowledge, practical tools and the opportunity to work with peers across sectors.

We know that for many organisations this is a substantial time and resource commitment. Therefore this process has not only been specifically designed to provide a valuable opportunity for organisations to build their staff capacity, examine new approaches to working and create exciting new ideas, but also includes £3,000 development funding. This funding to assist with designing and refining project ideas and we expect that given the developmental nature of the #NotWithoutMe Accelerator, it will predominantly be used to cover staff time. (Organisations are not expected to use the funding to deliver the project.) At the end of the #NotWithoutMe Accelerator organisations will be invited to pitch for up to £40,000 delivery funding and a further year of support.

What kind of organisations are we looking for?

We are looking for all types of enthusiastic organisations, large or small with experience supporting ‘vulnerable’ young people to apply. The programme is open to any constituted not-for-profit (including charities, social enterprises, CICs, local authorities), located within the UK or Ireland and which are able to take part in the programme between July-December 2018.

Further information about the #NotWithoutMe Accelerator including full eligibility criteria, judging criteria, key dates and expectations can be found on the  #NotWithoutMe Project Page.

The application is to be completed online here and closes 5pm on Monday 30th April 2018.


Photo courtesy of Signal Film and Media.

[1] The Tech Partnership (2017) Basic Digital Skills UK Report: summary of findings 2017 https://www.thetechpartnership.com/globalassets/pdfs/basic-digital-skills-standards/basicdigitalskills2016_findingssummary.pdf [accessed April 2018]

[2] Helsper, E and Smirnova, S (2016) Slipping Through The Net https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/about-the-trust/research-policies-reports/slipping-through-the-net [accessed April 2018]

[3] OFCOM (2016) ‘Smartphone by default’ internet users https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0028/62929/smarphone_by_default_2016.pdf  [Accessed April 2018]