Young people get their knowledge of tech from TV, not school

Schools need to do better to compete with media, films and games to be the place where kids learn about tech.

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Consultancy Accenture has run a survey of young people – Gen Z or those born in the 90s – and found that movies and social media are a bigger influence over their understanding of working in the tech sector than school. 

According to the research, young people in the UK are less likely to be getting their information about tech careers from school and teachers than social media, TV series and film. 

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Social media ranks top for information sources about career aspirations (31%), beating out parents by a small margin (29%) and teachers by a larger margin (24%). Gen Z are more likely to learn about a future in the tech sector from TV and film (27%) than from school (19%).

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Is this a good thing or a bad thing, when factoring in series like Mr Robot, which actually had plausible hacker stories? It even prompted antivirus companies to promote defenses against what the show's main character, a hacker named Elliot, could realistically do. At the same time, high school students are shunning UK ICT courses, reducing the supply of much-needed skills in the workforce in the UK, US, and elsewhere.   

Cybersecurity is just one part of the tech industry and employment opportunities. Kids could be interested in science, economics, marketing, and more pure tech, which could make learning a specific programming language a good idea, like Python, MATLAB, or C.

Is it worth learning the old-school but still-speedy programming language C, for example? Or learn JavaScript or Python, which in the case of Python is easier to learn and has the advantage of pre-compiled libraries, like NumPy, that help make it faster for specific scientific tasks?

Some students are turning to cheap single board computers like the Raspberry Pi to learn about future careers in tech, which exposes them to programming languages, network protocols, security and the basic fact that computers need human interfaces, such as graphical, touch/gesture, voice, a classic keyboard or a mouse.

Accenture surveyed 1,000 UK-based 16-21-year-olds on their career aspirations and their long-term options. It found that 44% of young women said they had good digital skills, but only 40% of young men said they did.

Despite this, less than a quarter of young people are confident in securing a technology job.

Shaheen Sayed, Accenture's technology lead in the UK & Ireland, said: "If the digital native generation is not turning to technology as a career option, then we have a huge pipeline problem for the technology profession. Young people know technology is completely redefining the world right now – but their lack of confidence in securing a tech job indicates a worrying disconnect between young people, particularly girls, and a changing jobs market."

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Those interviewed who were interested in tech jobs said they would most likely choose jobs in AI, data analytics, and cybersecurity. Which makes sense to an extent, given that these are the top three subjects in online tech media at present.  

"It's striking that young people are influenced more by digital channels than their connections at home and school when choosing their next steps," said Sayed. 

"Careers advice will need to meet young people where they are at and paint an engaging picture of the skills required for the economy today. Developing the next generation of tech talent requires more than having coding on the curriculum. Technology moves quickly and subjects must evolve to equip young people with the digital skills that will drive economic growth. Employers are looking for people to work with technologies, like AI, as they tackle global challenges like climate change and become more competitive."