Why digital and essential skills are the foundation of young peoples' futures

Oct 30, 2023
Our Work
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Digital literacy

The need for young people developing digital skills is reflected in the Future of Jobs report by the World Economic Forum which notes that “Technology literacy is the third-fastest growing core skill” in the workplace.

CapGemini’s 2023 report Futureready education Empowering Secondary School Students with Digital Skills defines digital skills as a combination of digital literacy, digital citizenship, data literacy and media literacy. The report notes, “As technology transforms every aspect of our lives, [...], students who are digital-, data-, and media-literate will have a significant advantage over their peers”. It continues: “It is crucial that students learn digital skills so they can compete in the job market and contribute positively to society and the economy.”

However, Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recognises: “Social background, gender, geography – they all leave their footprint on educational outcomes. Technology, however, is an amplifier and accelerator in this.”


Computing is considered a future-proof skill. The BBC’s article ‘AI trend drives rise in students wanting to study computing’ states that university applications for software engineering rose this year by 16%, compared to last year when computer science rose by 11%. Overall, despite a year-on-year rising trend, only 18% of applications for computer-related studies come from women. In the world of work, there is a lack of diversity in the digital economy. We Are TechWomen note that women are estimated to represent just 28% of the tech workforce.

Despite clear recognition of the importance of tech skills in the world of work, young people who are all digital natives, are uncertain about their digital skills. The Times’ article ‘Young people lack skills for digital age’ reported that 85% of those aged 16 to 24 believed they did not have the skills needed for today’s digital jobs. CapGemini’s 2023 report goes on to note “research reveals that secondary school students are not sufficiently confident in the digital skills required to thrive in the 21st century”. In further identifying the proficiency gap, the report notes that location and gender play a huge part in students’ engagement with technology: students in rural areas and female students. Low-income students are particularly less confident.

The Education Commission and Unicef note that young people globally need to develop their socioemotional skills including digital skills, which allow individuals to use and understand technology. The Institute of Employment Studies also notes the gap – according to employers, lack of skills (42%), experience (36%) and confidence (34%) are the major obstacles that young people face to accessing good quality employment.

Apps for Good believe that young people can shape their future through technology – they just need the support, skills, inspiration and pathway to make it happen. That's why we teach computing within a context and inspire young people to be digitally informed and socially engaged citizens.

Our courses empower young people to be active in their learning, engaged with their community and to create a better future with technology. At the heart of the courses are skills. Technology, at Apps for Good, falls into two skills’ areas: computing (computers, computational thinking and programming) and digital literacy/competence (using computers to interact with data, communications, and drawing on information to learn, evaluate, create and share). We believe our courses encourage students to be confident and engaged digital citizens prepared for a world of work where technology drives constant change.

Essential skills

Another skills area which we focus on at Apps for Good are essential skills (skills for education, employment and wider life) using Skills Builder’s Universal Framework. Each course is accredited by Skills Builder – the endorsement recognises that our courses provide young people with an opportunity to develop the essential skills they need to succeed in education, employment and wider life. Skills Builder’s eight non-technical essential skills include: Communication (Listening and Speaking), Creative Problem Solving (Problem Solving and Creativity), Self-Management (Staying Positive and Aiming High) and Interpersonal (Leadership and Teamwork). Each session focuses on one or two essential skills although eight essential skills are evident in each session of the course.

Skill pairs.jpg Skills Builder's eight non-technical essential skills

Many educational institutions, from schools, to organisations, to employers, are using the Universal Framework so that educators, employers and learners are able to develop a language and shared reference for essential life skills.

Inequalities further emerge in relation to essential life skills. Creative thinking and analytical thinking are considered to be the two core skills as per the latest Future of Jobs Report 2023 by the World Economic Forum. As more “frontier technologies” emerge, creativity is thought to be increasingly important as reasoning and decision-making become more automated in the workplace. Interestingly, young people's confidence varies in relation to essential skills with those from low or high-income households. Low-income students are less confident in leadership but more confident in creativity and time management. Those from high-income households are confident in leadership “taking initiative, motivating others, and leading by example”.

Apps for Good's impact

As a result of undertaking an Apps for Good course, 63% of students feel more confident in their computer programming skills and, encouragingly, 60% of students feel more confident explaining how technology can help society act on climate change.

In relation to essential skills, as a result of undertaking an Apps for Good course, 84% of students reported developing more than one essential skill – this was slightly higher for girls (92%) compared to 85% for boys. These findings varied depending on students’ ethnic backgrounds: Asian (93%), white (85%) compared with Black students (64%).

Overall, 71% of students reported that their teamwork had improved as a result of undertaking an Apps for Good course. Chloe, a Year 8 student from Putteridge High School, confirms that "Teamwork is a big skill we need to learn in life. Trust your team, merge your ideas together and create one big idea- that's how Powercut was made". Teachers also noted the benefit of collaborations – Richard Gledhill from Dr Challoners School remarked “As part of Showcase and the programme, there was a real channelling of the student's energy, both individually and within their teams, as well as collectively, in terms of dividing up responsibilities as to who was going to focus on each element. And a real, real sense of everyone working towards the same goal. I think they really flourished with that kind of clearly defined end goal in mind.”

The positive feedback continues with other essential skills: as a result of undertaking the course, 65% of students reported that their listening skills had improved with 64% of students reporting the same with their problem solving skills.

Students reported improvements in their creativity and ‘Aiming High’ (defined as taking pride in success, planning, goal-setting and working with care and attention). A student from Daubeney Academy notes the benefits of speaking to professionals through opportunities such as Industry Engagement and Showcase: “Many of us would normally be quite scared to talk to people. But this pushed us out of our comfort zone, which was really good for us.” Teacher Fraser Christie from St Paul’s RC Academy acknowledges students undertake new activities which grows their mindset. Christie notes that students “have never done anything quite like that before, and I don't think they would have realised they could have done it…they've surprised themselves.”

Authored by Dr Emma Posey, Senior Learning Manager, Apps for Good (@emmaposey)

Apps for Good is constantly striving to improve its courses. We always welcome feedback. Whether you have tips of your own to share, have spotted a mistake, want to let us know that you enjoyed the resources or would like to share any other thoughts, please email us at education@appsforgood.org.