Fuelling the future: As we emerge from lockdown, young people need support. Here’s how you can help

By Clare Barclay (above, left), CEO of Microsoft UK, and Ndidi Okezie (above, right), CEO of UK Youth


There is no doubt that 2020 will leave a profound mark on all our lives for years to come. Over the past 18 months we have been challenged to live and think differently. Digital forms of communication have become critical for many of us to stay in touch with friends and loved ones, with whom we were unable to connect in person. Working from home has also required some of us – young and old – to learn new digital skills; skills which are crucial for the jobs of today and those of the future.

Microsoft has predicted the UK will need to fill an extra three million technology-based jobs in areas such as software development, data analysis, cloud computing, cyber security and privacy by 2025.

This year, UK Youth and Microsoft will be celebrating nearly a decade of working together; a partnership which has raised the level of digital skills and confidence of more than 33,000 young people across the UK. 

During this time, our partnership has evolved as we adapted to changing needs and priorities. Most recently we’ve focussed on digital upskilling among youth workers, given their vital role in developing and sustaining services for young people. Youth workers have unique and trusted positions in their local communities and use non-formal educational techniques to support the personal and social development of young people in their area. This includes digital literacy, employability readiness and tech skills.

In 2019 we launched the Generation Code Accelerator to address the lack of embedded, sustainable digital skills provision in the youth sector. We’re delighted with the results – with 80% of youth workers seeing an increase in confidence to support tech provision at their youth organisation. This has an incredible direct impact on the young people in local communities, with one participant saying: “This is a great opportunity for me to train for a better future.”

Together, we share a belief that to close the digital skills gap in a post COVID-19 world, we must continue to support young people across the UK who represent the workforce of the future and a key factor in determining future UK competitiveness. We must also strive to support those already in work, giving them access to learn new and essential digital skills.

UK Youth leads a network of more than 8,000 local youth organisations, collectively reaching 4.1 million young people. Over the past year, these organisations have told us about their struggle to survive severe funding cuts as they adapt to meet the changing needs of young people. UK Youth has been particularly struck by the demands for support for young people and youth workers from ethnic minority communities, who have been disproportionately impacted during this pandemic.

A survey conducted by UK Youth at the start of the pandemic revealed that 65% of local youth organisations need to increase their digital capability and IT infrastructure so they can continue to serve young people. Throughout the past year, UK Youth has provided more than 2,000 devices to local youth organisations, supported by partnerships with Microsoft, Raspberry Pi and Bell Integration. UK Youth has also worked with partners to develop a digital youth work guide to help youth workers adapt their services for online delivery.

Christina Watson, from UK Youth, with two Generation Code participants at an Inspiration Day

Christina Watson, from UK Youth, with two Generation Code participants at an Inspiration Day

The pandemic has highlighted that digital skills, expertise and resources are critically needed across the youth sector.

Emrys Green, UK Youth Programme Consultant, said: “This year has thrust digital youth work to centre stage and the importance of understanding has been magnified.”

As we emerge from lockdown; we know that young people’s need for support is only increasing. The pandemic has had a lasting impact on young people’s mental health, employment prospects and futures.  In partnership, we’ve seen first-hand the incredible difference individuals and businesses can make by coming together to support young people. However, it will take many more to effect the change we need to see.

Consequently, we will leave you with a final thought. Many of us have found ourselves working from home and getting to know our neighbours and local communities better than we could have ever imagined. But do you know where your closest local youth organisation is? And have you considered asking them how you can help?

Whether it be volunteering your time and expertise, fundraising or donating digital equipment, there are many ways you can play an active role in strengthening the support systems that surround young people.

To find out more about supporting the youth sector and partnering with UK Youth, please visit www.ukyouth.org.