I’m lucky enough to lead O2’s programmes to support young people reach their potential. And as you can imagine from a company at the heart of the digital movement, tech plays an important role.
As one of the Government’s 11 Champions of the Social Mobility Business Compact we design our programmes to actively reach and encourage participation from less advantaged young people – from making sure that work experience opportunities offered through GoThinkBig are open for all to apply, not just those who know someone who works there, through to working alongside over 50 youth partner organisations to help reach and engage young people across the UK.
And personally, I strongly believe that opportunities and success should be determined by talent and potential, not by what my father did for a living or the area where I grew up in.
I can see the benefits that tech can bring in evening the playing field and opening up the world of work to all:
Access to information and insight – the internet is amazing and full of information, insight, facts, personal accounts and advice. Job hunters can research companies and sectors, find out about career directions, brush up on subjects they are not experts in, and discover opportunities available to them.
Networking – social media enables us to connect with people, if it’s following someone on twitter to get a sense of their values and priorities, or connecting with them via LinkedIn to showcase your skills and experience and find work opportunities.
Skills – there are so many resources online. I learnt to knit from YouTube, and there are online courses to teach pretty much everything.
Showcasing –virtual badges can showcase and demonstrate skills learnt outside of formal qualifications, passions and interests, and helping job seekers to present a rich and unique profile. Employer endorsed badges, such as through the Open Badge Academy, can add extra credibility.
Jobs – we know the UK digital economy will need an additional 2.3 million digital workers by 2020, so there is a great opportunity young people, as digital natives, to carve out careers.
However, despite digital access becoming more affordable, huge investment in infrastructure across the UK to connect communities, and inclusion of digital skills within education there has been little improvement in social mobility. One illustration being that graduates’ family background continues to influence their earnings long after graduation. It remains that the family and circumstances which you were born into are a significant determinant on future prospects.
I know from working with young people through Think Big that simply creating an opportunity is not enough. There can be many barriers to taking up opportunities, from caring or working responsibilities through to confidence and self-belief. Even though we can see that participating in our programmes can boost resilience, confidence and skills, and help young people gain experience and networks that can help their career journey, we still need to support them to consider the opportunity in the first place.
Youth work can help to provide support, guidance and inspiration for young people thinking about their future, and the encouragement and belief to fulfil their potential.
This is why we work with the National Youth Agency – their experience of youth work and engaging young people, especially those from less advantaged backgrounds, is a vital element of our programmes. We know the value of encouraging and enabling young people to overcome their barriers, build their confidence and ambition, and appetite to take advantage of the support and opportunities on offer.
Whilst I still believe that tech can be a force for good in creating fair chances, it is not the complete solution. Youth work remains a vital partner to help young people from all backgrounds to access the opportunities on offer, or create their own.
It’s not about where young people are from, it’s about where they are going.
Kerry North has been at O2 for 4 years as part of the award winning Think Big team. O2’s youth programme aims to help young people achieve their potential through opening up the world of work via GoThinkBig.co.uk, and helping them develop their entrepreneurial and digital skills through participating in social action via Think Big.