Hello and welcome to series two of Microsoft Stories, a podcast about technology and the people who use it.
Over the course of this series we will speak to young people about the big issues affecting their lives and shaping their futures. We will also look at the companies and organisations playing a role in those issues, and explore how technology can be used to create innovative solutions.
For episode three we are looking at digital skills. Not enough people are learning digital skills, and that’s bad for individuals, organisations and the UK. In this episode you will hear how learning even basic digital skills can change your life, and we tell you some of the ways you can get started.
Click the play button and join us on our journey.
Transcript of this episode
Hello and welcome to series two of Microsoft Stories, a podcast about technology and the people who use it. I’m your host Katie Gale, Philanthropies Co-ordinator at Microsoft UK. In this series I will be talking to young people and finding out about the big issues affecting their lives and shaping their futures. I also want to learn about the companies and experts who play key roles in those issues. And how does technology fit into all this and how can it be used to help tackle some of the most important challenges facing the world today?
Let’s find out!
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Today, we’re talking about digital skills, and I need to make one thing clear from the start: Everyone needs digital skills. And I mean EVERYONE.
If you’re listening to this and thinking you don’t need to learn digital skills because your dream job or career doesn’t need them, let me tell you, right now: You do need to learn them.
That’s because every job from A to Z requires some level of digital skills – from an accountant to a zoologist.
I’m not saying you have to go out and become a master coder… or learn any coding at all (although that would be amazing). The digital skills some companies need may be as basic as setting up a Microsoft Teams video call or sharing a link to a Word document so multiple people can work on it at the same time. That small change in how staff communicate and collaborate can transform a business.
Digital skills can also transform your life, taking your career in new and exciting directions that otherwise wouldn’t have been open to you.
Here’s Sally Eaves, a Professor in Emergent Technologies and an Advisor to global foundations, who specialises in Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and Cybersecurity, to talk about two incredible projects she’s involved in – computing in space and using unwanted data to help people learn new skills.
SALLY: I’m involved in a project at the moment that’s basically doing high-performance computing in space. I’m doing research projects that are going to the International Space Station, around edge computing, IoT, industrial IoT.
If we’re looking at doing future manned missions out further into our solar system, we need to have more sophisticated computing capabilities – cutting down on latency, and, frankly, ensuring astronaut survival. To do that, we need to understand more about technology’s ability to operate in the harshest of conditions, like we have in space.
Another project I’m involved in at the moment is using data waste. 90% of data that’s archived isn’t touched again after three months. We use that for training, for reskilling and for upskilling, and applying those skills to ‘tech for good’ projects locally and globally.
But to make those outcomes a reality, it comes back to trust and it comes back to doing it in a secure, safe way so everyone has that shared confidence and trust to go ahead with those projects, so investing in cybersecurity skills is at the heart of some of the most dynamic, most life-changing, most world-affecting projects of our times. I really think it could be the coolest job you could ever take.
Digital skills are key to tackling the biggest issues across our planet. So why isn’t every person – young and old – learning digital skills? Why are schoolchildren – mostly girls – dropping tech-related subjects?
Microsoft and LinkedIn found that 68% of students don’t understand what skills are needed to start their career. That can affect their future job prospects.
The lack of digital skills is also being felt on the employer side, too. The Chartered Management Institute revealed 80% of employers believe graduates do not arrive fully equipped with the right skills they need to be work-ready – these skills include digital communication, creating a digital brand or profile and networking effectively in a digital world.
Meanwhile, a study released last year by Microsoft in partnership with Dr Chris Brauer at Goldsmiths, University of London, found that 80% of UK leaders believe investment in digital skills will be important to the country’s economic recovery following COVID-19, while 78% also view a large pool of digital talent as essential to driving UK competitiveness.
It also found that the majority of UK employees (59%) think developing their digital skills will be important to future employability. However, 63% of UK employees did not agree that they have the appropriate digital skills to fulfil new and emerging roles in their industry.
It’s a complex issue that is creating significant problems for the UK. Waves and waves of young people are leaving school and university without the right digital skills.
Here’s Harry Morgan, Digital Skills Marketing Manager at Microsoft.
HARRY: The digital skills gap is a concern for organisations across the UK – but there’s a real opportunity for passionate young people to help organisations unlock their potential.
Technology careers come in all industries – from football to food to fashion – and I would really encourage anybody listening to consider the role that tech skills could play in their career.
After all, at Microsoft, we anticipate the need for more than three million skilled people in UK technology careers by 2025. We predict a real demand for software development, data, AI, cloud and cybersecurity skills over the coming years.
By starting to learn technology skills now, young people have the opportunity to impress employers, stand out from the crowd and lead a fulfilling career.
So, quick recap. If you’re a young person listening to this podcast, here are the key things to remember: digital skills are crucial to your future career. They can give your career a strong purpose and allow you to work on incredible projects. Plus, even basic digital skills can give you – and your bank balance – a huge boost.
A UK government report from 2019 found that digital skills also carry a large wage premium. Overall, roles requiring digital skills pay 29% more than roles that do not, with the premium increasing at higher skill levels.
But where do you go to get these skills? How do you know which courses will be helpful to your career?
Microsoft can help. The company has launched a five-year campaign called Get On 2021 to help 1.5 million people build careers in technology and help 300,000 connect to tech job opportunities. Microsoft is working with its 25,000-strong partner community and customers to create, expand and accelerate pathways into tech careers, widening access and building a more diverse tech specialist workforce.
If you’re at school, college or university, check out Career Coach. This Teams-based tool lets you explore careers and learning opportunities. You can identify the skills you have and learn about skills that are in demand. Career Coach also lets you connect with alumni, staff and peers to build a strong professional network and get advice when you need it.
Then there’s Microsoft Learn, which helps you discover new skills, find certifications and advance your career with interactive, hands-on learning paths. LinkedIn Learning contains thousands of professional courses to help you build in-demand skills.
You may even be able to learn digital skills as part of your university degree. Microsoft has Shared Goal Agreements with a number of UK universities that embed tech qualifications into other courses. These enable students to graduate with a degree in their chosen subject, plus gain industry-recognised certifications in areas such as cloud computing.
There are lots of opportunities out there, so start looking!
Syron is a 19-year-old from London. His passion for tech started early, after learning to build computers at the age of nine. He’s now involved with charity and social business Catch22, and is learning about customer relationship management systems as he works towards becoming a consultant.
SYRON: All innovations now that are going to be world changing will have the involvement of tech. Careers in tech are a necessity at this point. Qualifications themselves aren’t looked at as the be-all and end-all. We are able to use portfolios to display our skills.
Companies like Microsoft are definitely up there when it comes to digital skills and being taught certain things. Catch22 has definitely helped me. It was more of a personal thing there as well, but they definitely helped me and gave me other opportunities.
Victoria is a 25-year-old from London who wants to work in the Third Sector. She attended a digital skills event called Digital Edge, run by Microsoft and Catch22.
VICTORIA: As it happens, Microsoft has already assisted me in getting those digital skills. In July I did the Digital Edge Catch22 programme and what happened there was, I learned about the potential of augmented reality in various industries and I even got to devise and present my own idea for a digital product, exploring the ideas for commercial viability and how you can use digital technology to address social issues in society and really help people. So, among other technical skills and employment skills, these were the things that Microsoft really helped me with. Also, hearing experiences from Microsoft apprentices and employees about their journey within technology or within Microsoft for me, I found particularly inspiring and uplifting, and hearing those really motivated me to upskill and chase my passions. And it really galvanises me to want to learn more about technology and be more passionate and really aspire to more.
Keeping young people engaged in digital skills is about two things: relatability and visibility. It’s important to make digital skills relevant to individuals and show them what can happen when you learn them.
For example, role models are incredibly important to young people wanting to pursue tech careers – particularly for young women. In the UK, girls become interested in STEM subjects just before the age of 11 but this drops sharply when they turn 16. Less than half of those surveyed by Microsoft said they would consider a career in STEM. Having a role model was found to reduce this dropout rate, as was practical experience and knowledge of STEM subjects’ application in the real world.
Here’s cybersecurity expert Sally Eaves again.
SALLY: If you can see someone, whether you’re eight, 18, 28, 48 or older than that, if you can see someone that you think, “actually I can learn about that, that would make a difference to my life, that’s actually a career I’m interested in”, that will make a huge difference.
You want to be able to have access to people, to mentors and also to sponsorship opportunities, internships, apprenticeships, where you can learn, hands-on and try it. It might not be that cybersecurity is the career for you but you want to give people that opportunity to find out for themselves.
It’s that word, curiosity. I think it’s one of the most powerful words there are in the human language. It’s something that’s driven me as long as I can remember. I remember being a young kid in a garage, taking stuff apart and finding out how they worked.
I started off as a coder, doing things from SQL Server to C++ to Unix building, also doing a lot in community education mentoring, as well. Then I went on to have this fusion of IT and management, leading changed teams, as a change manager, also as a CTO and CIO but also pursuing education opportunities as well.
I’ve also done studying around Medieval English, for example, it’s not just about pure technology skills. I’m also a professor and author. I do a lot of tech advisory work and I have a non-profit that I founded called Aspirational Futures. It shows there’s not one linear path to doing something. You can come at things from different angles.
Helping students explore digital skills from different angles to ensure they are relatable and easy to access isn’t happening as much as it should. That’s bad for the individual and bad for businesses.
But what if that lack of skills is in a critical area such as cybersecurity? Then it becomes bad for all of us.
A report by the UK government estimated that around 50% of UK businesses have people in charge of cybersecurity that lack the confidence to carry out basic security tasks such as storing or transferring personal data, setting up configured firewalls and detecting and removing malware. Around 33% have more advanced skills gaps, most commonly in areas such as penetration testing, forensic analysis and security architecture.
In light of these findings, it’s unsurprising that almost half of cyber firms have faced problems with technical cyber security skills gaps either among existing staff or among job applicants, or that four-in-10 businesses and a quarter of charities reported having cybersecurity breaches or attacks in the year to March 2021.
In its latest annual review, released in November, The National Cyber Security Centre said it handled a record 777 incidents in the year to September 2021. It has warned that – quote – “the cyber threat continues to grow”, with ransomware now – quote – “the most immediate cyber security threat to UK businesses and one that should be higher on the boardroom agenda”.
Worryingly, the UK government found that businesses holding personal data were more likely than average to have reported breaches or attacks. That could mean your data ends up in the hands of criminals who can use it to impersonate you online or trick you into handing over money.
According to cybersecurity expert Sally, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t helped the situation, and every one of us needs to take control of our own cybersecurity.
SALLY: Working practices have evolved. There’s been this hybridity, we’re using devices in different ways, sharing devices at home, using them for personal activities, downloading films, etc. But then maybe doing something else from a work network, but not having the same security in place you would have had previously, so we’re seeing those kinds of evolving behaviours that are changing, too.
Certainly that investment in education, skills uplift and making sure opportunities to learn about cybersecurity – they’re not just in a cybersecurity team, they’re for every role in an organisation, not just tech-facing ones. It has to be embedded. Every person makes a difference. It’s a shared responsibility, so getting this combination right is absolutely key.
The good news is that the UK has a strong and growing cybersecurity sector, employing more than 46,000 people and paying an average salary of around £45,000 a year. The UK is also the fourth largest security exporter in the world and cyberspace is an important and expanding part of that sector.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the surge in digital transformation has seen nearly £1 billion invested into the UK’s cybersecurity sector, with 4,000 new full-time jobs created.
Microsoft is working to support the cybersecurity sector, too. In October, the company announced a US-focused campaign with community colleges to help skill and recruit 250,000 people into the cybersecurity workforce by 2025, representing half of the country’s workforce shortage. That’s on top of a commitment of $20 billion over five years to advance Microsoft’s security solutions and protect customers, as well as $150 million to help US government agencies upgrade protections and expand our cybersecurity training partnerships.
So, what does all this mean for you? It means there are significant opportunities to learn new skills, start an exciting career and help keep people, organisations and the country safe.
Victoria, the 25-year-old from London, is just one young person interested in finding out more.
VICTORIA: I would 100% be interested in learning about what cybersecurity is, what people do in it and its impact and its importance within technological companies and internet usage.
I’m sure there’s so many young people that would want to do cybersecurity, but they don’t necessarily know so much, they might have preconceived notions about what cybersecurity is or what a person who works in cybersecurity does. But once those are broken down and they see the potential, and I’m sure there’s so many people that would be drawn to it.
Harry, the Digital Skills Marketing Manager at Microsoft, regularly works with young people. He recommends checking out Microsoft’s Digital Skills Hub online to get started.
HARRY: We created The Microsoft Digital Skills Hub with an ambition of supporting everyone in their learning journey – no matter where you’re starting from. Find links to events and online courses you can complete at your own pace, many of which offer digital badges, and also inspiring stories of people who have started a technology career.
I hope this podcast has given you the confidence to learn new digital skills and take control of your future. And remember, we are always here to support you in your journey via the courses, certifications and coaching we provide. We are just a click away!
I want to end with some great insight from cybersecurity expert Sally, who perfectly sums up the impact that digital skills can have.
SALLY: A young lady I was working with called Christine wanted to expand her knowledge into cloud skills and cybersecurity skills. She’s gone from a role where she felt she was stuck, and now she’s doing an amazing cloud computing practitioner role. She’s also doing some other educational things in her own time as well. She’s bringing that combination together and it’s completely transformed what she’s doing on a day-to-day basis, and opened up so many new opportunities. I love stories like that.
I’m afraid that’s all the time we have for today. Thank you for listening and make sure you look out for the next episode of Microsoft Stories soon. Bye for now!
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