Young adults and the digital skills gap

Written by Sarah Coe

The Oxford English defines a Digital Native as ‘a person born or brought up during the age of digital technology and so familiar with computers and the Internet from an early age’, statistics show that digital natives spend a lot of their time on mobile devices, with 90% of young adults (16-24 yrs old) having access to a smartphone and only 3% not using the internet.

However, branding all young people as digital natives risks excluding vulnerable young adults from digital skills provision. Nominet Trust estimates that there are over 300,000 young people who do not have basic digital skills. This could be a result of the following key barriers:

  • Personal skills: including poor literacy and numeracy skills
  • Circumstantial: poverty and poor credit ratings affecting access
  • Systematic: lack of motivation to access training opportunities.


Supporting this, internet use amongst young people is largely mobile and app based, which do not allow people to carry out the same activities as devices such as laptops and desktops do. Similarly, skills gained using social media doesn’t equate to being able to access services online, or find and apply for jobs online.

Charities such as The Prince’s Trust and Nominet Trust have recently been working to raise awareness of this issue with both recently publishing reports that reveal that many disadvantaged young people are not achieving positive outcomes online, especially concerned with employment or education. The research also demonstrates that there is a strong correlation between social exclusion and lack of digital skills for young people; a link commonly seen throughout digital exclusion.

Disadvantaged young people are likely to have lower quality access and lower levels of digital skills which impede their ability to take up education and employment opportunities. Some of the key trends that recent research has uncovered are:

  • Around 40% had low skill levels in relation to ‘netiquette’, that is decisions about their own behaviour, dealing with the negative behaviour of others online or in managing their mobile phones in a safe way.
  • 67% of young people have someone available to help them out if they need support with ICT related issues.
  • Only 17% of NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) had asked for help with using ICTs in the last three months.
  • Of NEETs, 46% had truth checking, 49% had keyword search and 19% had orientation skills and as compared to the employed who had 56% truth checking, 59% keyword search and 24% orientation skills.

This leaves young people, and in particular vulnerable young people, at risk of lack of opportunities and access to services and vital support. Which is why Good Things Foundation are working to support young people on two different projects.

The first project is a pan-European project called I-LINC, which aims to develop an online community for organisations supporting youth employability with digital skills. The I-LINC platform includes useful resources for those who support young people with digital skills, including:

  • Think Big - a programme that gives young adults the opportunity to develop digital and entrepreneurial skills they need to create positive social change
  • YouRock - a platform to encourage young people to find jobs based on their skills and qualities, whilst linking to employers 
  • Six Thinking Hats - a tool for discussion based on Edward de Bono’s Six Hats.

Secondly, Good Things Foundation are working on a project to support young people in collaboration with Carers Trust. Funded by Nominet Trust, Carers Trust are leading on a project to support young carers with digital skills, where Good Things Foundation will work with Carers Trust to develop an e-learning resource for young adult carers. Resource will be hosted on our learning platform, Learn My Way, and will be rolled out to eight Carers Trust Network Partners who will use the resource to help young adult carers gain the basic digital skills they need to achieve their aspirations.

If you want to find out more about the projects, feel free to get in touch with me at