Businesses urged to look to young people to fill digital skills gaps

The unused digital skills sitting within the community of one million unemployed young people is estimated by UK businesses to be worth £6.7 billion, new research from O2 reveals. The findings highlight businesses are in vital need of the digital skills the generation that grew up with the internet have, including web design, coding and social media expertise.

The study by the mobile operator also found that businesses expect a fifth (21 per cent) of their growth over the next three years to come through digital channels. When asked, “Which skills would most help your business grow and develop?”, digital skills were on a par with new business development and customer acquisition abilities.

O2 is encouraging young people to showcase their digital talents to potential employers, whilst urging employers to look to young people to fill their digital skills gaps.

The study makes clear that businesses need to do more to make the most of the digital skills sitting unused in the youth community. Over three-quarters (77 per cent) of businesses acknowledge that young people have digital skills in abundance but less than one quarter (24 per cent) are planning to offer a first time job or an ‘on the job’ training role to a young person in the coming months.

O2 CEO Ronan Dunne said: “There are more than a million young people out of work. It’s a travesty that whilst businesses are crying out for digital skills, they are excluding from the workplace the very people who have them.”

“Now is the time when thousands of young people will be deciding what to do next. We want to encourage them to make the most of the fact that they have grown up in a digital world and be confident in the value of their skills to prospective employers. Businesses need to recognise the value that young people can bring – they are the future fuel of the economy and have the skills we need to help pull us out of recession.”

The findings also reveal a need for businesses to embrace young people and maximise the digital skills young people say they possess:

  • Nine out of ten (90%) can use social media to promote an event, idea or cause
  • Two-thirds of young people (66 per cent) can design a webpage
  • One in five (19 per cent) can develop an app
  • 13 per cent are “confident” at coding, whilst another 25% have experienced coding at some point
  • 36% are confident in working with databases


While digital skills are often seen as the preserve of businesses in London’s Tech City, the findings show a wide range of businesses are also in need of them. When asked to identify from a number of digital skills which they would find the most valuable:

  • A fifth of businesses said the services of a web designer would be the most valuable
  • 12 per cent value e-marketing as a key driver of growth
  • One in ten want to get a better handle on their customers, with customer management systems


Businesses consider only 35 per cent of their current employees to be digitally savvy, but almost half (49 per cent) say they don’t plan to spend anything on up-skilling their current workforce in digital.

Adam Thilthorpe, Director for Professionalism, BCS Chartered Institute for IT: “Digital skills and IT is at the heart of almost everything in society today. It’s important that not only should everyone be able to make use of technology to take advantage of the benefits information and technology bring to society, but also that we encourage young people to consider their career options and how IT and digital skills apply in the workplace.”

O2 is undertaking a number of initiatives to support young people on their journey to work:

  • Increasing the number of paid apprenticeships and internships offering a broad range of experiences plus on-going mentoring and coaching
  • Digital work skills days for 3,000 young people aged 16 take them through a number of activities covering engineering and digital technology
  • Along with Futura Networks, Telefonica (O2 in the UK) is hosting Campus Party in Berlin between 21-26 August, where 10,000 of Europe’s most talented minds will come together to retype Europe’s source code, rebuild Europe’s digital foundations and write the plan for Europe’s digital future


Notes to Editors:

The research was conducted by specialist research agency ResearchBods. Both businesses and young people were polled. The total sample size was 400 UK businesses and 1,000 UK 16-24 year olds. The figures are representative of all businesses and young people in the UK. Fieldwork into the views of businesses was undertaken between 16th and 20th July, 2012. Fieldwork into the views of young people was undertaken between 27th July and 2nd August, 2012.

Digital skills in this context refer to web design, app developing, coding, customer management systems, mobile/location based skills, community management, social media management, e-marketing etc.

i: Employers were asked to identify digital skills that would be of value to their business. They were then asked to estimate the amount they would pay in an annualised salary for a range of pre-selected key digital skills (these include: web design, app developing, coding, customer management systems, mobile/location based skills, community management, social media management, e-marketing etc.). The average annualised salary across all skills was £17,956. When polling young people it was revealed that an average of 37 per cent of young people have at least one of the skills of value to businesses. The latest seasonally adjusted Labour Market unemployment figures reveal that across the UK there are 1,011,640 unemployed 16 to 24 year olds. Therefore the total value of young people’s digital skills was calculated as the number of young people with digital skills (37 per cent) multiplied by the number of unemployed young people (1,011,640) multiplied by the average salary businesses are willing to pay for these skills (£17,956). This revealed the current value of the unused digital skills sitting within the youth community of £6,721,052,900.

For more information contact:

O2 Press Office

About O2 in the UK
O2 is the commercial brand of Telefónica UK Limited and is a leading communications company with over 23 million customers – read more about O2 at
. O2 runs 2G and 3G networks and was the first to trial 4G/LTE, reaching speeds of over 100Mpbs, as well as owning half of Tesco Mobile. It also operates O2 Wifi, O2 Health, O2 Unify, O2 Media and has recently launched the O2 Wallet. O2 employs over 11,000 people in the UK, has 450 retail stores and sponsors The O2, O2 Academy venues and the England rugby team. Telefónica UK Limited is part of Telefónica Europe plc which uses O2 as its commercial brand in the UK, Ireland, Slovakia, Germany and the Czech Republic and is a business division of Telefónica SA.


Journalists can contact the Virgin Media O2 press office on: 01753 565656
Virgin Media
press enquiries
press enquiries