By Daniel Hunter

The unused digital skills sitting within the community of one million unemployed young people is estimated by UK businesses to be worth £6.7 billion, new research from O2 reveals.

The findings highlight businesses are in vital need of the digital skills the generation that grew up with the internet have, including web design, coding and social media expertise.

The study by the mobile operator also found that businesses expect a fifth (21 per cent) of their growth over the next three years to come through digital channels. When asked, “Which skills would most help your business grow and develop?”, digital skills were on a par with new business development and customer acquisition abilities.

O2 is encouraging young people to showcase their digital talents to potential employers, whilst urging employers to look to young people to fill their digital skills gaps.

The study makes clear that businesses need to do more to make the most of the digital skills sitting unused in the youth community. Over three-quarters (77 per cent) of businesses acknowledge that young people have digital skills in abundance but less than one quarter (24 per cent) are planning to offer a first time job or an ‘on the job’ training role to a young person in the coming months.

“There are more than a million young people out of work. It’s a travesty that whilst businesses are crying out for digital skills, they are excluding from the workplace the very people who have them,” O2 CEO Ronan Dunne said.

“Now is the time when thousands of young people will be deciding what to do next. We want to encourage them to make the most of the fact that they have grown up in a digital world and be confident in the value of their skills to prospective employers. Businesses need to recognise the value that young people can bring - they are the future fuel of the economy and have the skills we need to help pull us out of recession.”

The findings also reveal a need for businesses to embrace young people and maximise the digital skills young people say they possess:

- Nine out of ten (90%) can use social media to promote an event, idea or cause
- Two-thirds of young people (66 per cent) can design a webpage
- One in five (19 per cent) can develop an app
- 13 per cent are “confident” at coding, whilst another 25% have experienced coding at some point
- 36% are confident in working with databases

While digital skills are often seen as the preserve of businesses in London’s Tech City, the findings show a wide range of businesses are also in need of them. When asked to identify from a number of digital skills which they would find the most valuable:

- A fifth of businesses said the services of a web designer would be the most valuable
- 12 per cent value e-marketing as a key driver of growth
- One in ten want to get a better handle on their customers, with customer management systems

Businesses consider only 35 per cent of their current employees to be digitally savvy, but almost half (49 per cent) say they don’t plan to spend anything on up-skilling their current workforce in digital.

“Digital skills and IT is at the heart of almost everything in society today," said Adam Thilthorpe, Director for Professionalism, BCS Chartered Institute for IT.

"It’s important that not only should everyone be able to make use of technology to take advantage of the benefits information and technology bring to society, but also that we encourage young people to consider their career options and how IT and digital skills apply in the workplace.”

O2 is undertaking a number of initiatives to support young people on their journey to work:

- Increasing the number of paid apprenticeships and internships offering a broad range of experiences plus on-going mentoring and coaching
- Digital work skills days for 3,000 young people aged 16 take them through a number of activities covering engineering and digital technology
- Along with Futura Networks, Telefonica (O2 in the UK) is hosting Campus Party in Berlin between 21-26 August, where 10,000 of Europe’s most talented minds will come together to retype Europe’s source code, rebuild Europe's digital foundations and write the plan for Europe's digital future

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