Posted: 17 November 2017

Digital reach and young people

We have seen first-hand from our frontline practice that lack of access to the digital world and awareness of safety risks online were holding young people back. We’re worried that young people could be left behind without key digital skills. We’re tackling this disadvantage through our projects with Nominet Trust.

Recent research highlights that around 300,000 young people aged between 16 and 24 in the UK lack basic digital skills. In a world which is digital by default, young people in this situation become ‘digitally disadvantaged’.

The research was carried out by Nominet Trust and when it comes to the digital world, it’s safe to say they know what they’re talking about. This is why we’re working together on Digital Reach - a programme funded by Nominet Trust to equip 500 young people with digital skills around the country.

Lacking technical know-how is a major contributor to being left behind both socially and economically. So it’s not surprising that the research found these young people are most likely to be facing multiple forms of disadvantage.

Exploring ‘digital disadvantage’

We spoke directly to young people to learn about their digital lives and experiences, and we’ve learnt a lot. So, in partnership with City and Guilds and Digital Me, we’re working with six youth-led pilot projects across the UK to explore ‘digital disadvantage’ and how to address it.

Online technical ability, online confidence and online safety are the three key areas of concern that cut across all of the consultations despite the varying circumstances of young people supported through our Birmingham, Coventry, Newcastle and Manchester projects.

At My Place youth club in Coventry, which supports young asylum seekers, refugees and migrants, we were met with a group of young people all completely immersed in their phones – giving us the impression that they were totally technically competent as they tapped away with their headphones in. However, after a few conversations about life online, it emerged that many of the young people there experience digital disadvantage, and some even digital exclusion.

Life in a digital world

One young person tells us his social worker bought him his phone but did not show him how to use it. It was his interpreter that helped him instead. He said that he finds his phone very difficult to use - everything requires English, so he mainly just listens to music. His English skills are limited and when he gets texts reminding him about youth club, he doesn’t know how to reply.

The Computer Club based at Pause in Birmingham supports a similar cohort of young people who told us that improving their English skills was a key reason to go online. Here, young people have an opportunity to connect with others, learn English and get advice about other challenges in life from the staff at Pause. They value computer club for so many reasons - improving digital skills is just one.

At one of our projects in the North East, which supports young migrants, we discovered that parents can influence online behaviour. The young people’s relative competence compared to their parents’ means that they end up completing online forms on behalf of the family. They told us that they learn as they go – which is a risky practice as it doesn’t equip them with the preventative, proactive skills necessary to protect themselves online.

In Manchester, speaking to young people supported through our ‘Missing from Home’ services, we learnt how seamlessly online and offline worlds can merge. In terms of their safety, we’re concerned about the risks some young people take to get online. They usually have restrictions placed on them to keep them safe but we’ve heard that some young people break these restrictions such as travelling on a bus late at night or going to fast food venues just to get free WiFi – putting themselves in danger.

Tackling the issues

Through our Digital Reach pilot programme, we aim to help build young people’s knowledge and competence of the online world. For many, this means focusing on improving confidence and awareness so they can safely engage at a similar level to their peers.

We will equip the more advanced young people with the skills necessary to access opportunities such as education or employment in the future. Online safety, a theme that runs throughout, will form the basis of all of the work.

The pilot has already begun with Digital Project Workers in place across our programme and our next blog, in the New Year, will look at how the pilot is progressing so far.


Read more

Digital Reach programme

Posted: 6 July 2017