For those of us who have been working for over two decades the transformation in what we do at work and how we do it are almost beyond comprehension. The digital age has turned working life on its head in many respects. (The same is true of many aspects of our private life … few people can function without the internet and/or mobile signal today; those who can function probably have family and friends Googling and texting on their behalf!)

As such, information and communications technology (ICT) impacts almost every career choice. It’s a compelling argument for why children should be taught basic IT skills, even from a young age – as recognised by it becoming a required subject from September 2014. However, while most schools have integrated online learning technologies into their curriculum, few yet have truly focused on encouraging meaningful courses for computer literacy to their students. Although it’s early days, collectively, students take around 5.5m GCSEs each year, only about 75,000 are taken in ICT.

Technology skills in demand

A recent report from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) states more than half of today’s jobs require some degree of technology skills. This is anticipated to increase to just over three quarters within the next decade. As such, preparing students now is vital. Computers translate the language of the digital age. By not actively encouraging students to learn about ICT we may be seriously hampering their ability to earn a decent living.

A further study by ONS states “by 2020, there will be nearly six million jobs in the IT sector alone”. At current education rates, there will only be three million people capable of fulfilling them. Further, this study showed that only 73 per cent of individuals aged 16 to 64 have any sort of knowledge about computers. This, to me at least, highlights the need to teach ICT in our schools. Arguably, simply knowing how to operate a computer is not the level of knowledge our children need. Perhaps a rather more comprehensive understanding of computer systems will be required?

ICT awareness and skills transcend all markets. Growing at nearly 15 per cent per year, the number of jobs in software-based IT impacts the fields of business, medicine and science. Given that three quarters of these jobs will be technology dependent in the future, it is incumbent upon us to provide our children with the training necessary to make them employable. Not all jobs are technology based, of course, but the vast majority will use technology.

QWERTY query

This is where I really get on my soapbox! Why do so few schools and parents encourage their children to learn to touch-type?! It’s neither difficult nor time-consuming to learn, yet saves enormous swathes of time when using a keyboard throughout life. It can also significantly improve posture, as the head is looking forward at the screen and not down at the keyboard. It also saves developing RSI by over-use of the ‘delete’ key!

While in my teens (a long time ago, before computers and keyboards became commonplace) I begged my father to borrow a typewriter from work and to ask his secretary to draw a diagram for me as to which fingers to use on which keys. She also gave me a few exercises to practice – ‘cat bat mat hat’ and the like – until I eventually progressed to ‘the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’, a phrase which uses every key on the keyboard. A few hours a week for a few weeks and it set me up for life.

Most jobs involve some element of using a keyboard…

Throughout my career, whenever I’ve taken on staff, if they have not been able to touch-type one of the first tasks I’ve set them is to sit down with computer and a copy of ‘Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing’. For just a few quid and a very modest investment of time I’ve not only enabled staff to develop a very useful skill but also made them far more efficient at their job.

I would encourage almost everyone to learn to touch-type – the younger, the better.

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