IMPACT20: The National Conversation Report: An interview with Jacqueline de Rojas CBE

JACQUELINE DE ROJAS CBE

Known as the UK’s “titan of tech”, the president of techUK and co-chair of the Institute of Coding gives her take on bridging Britain’s digital divide and making sure young people aren’t frozen out of the job market.

On teaching digital skills:

I’m a tech optimist but I do think there needs to be an intervention in the compulsory school years to promote digital fluency. This isn’t just about how to use social media; it’s learning how to really harness technology. I’d like to see young people learning that at school alongside the three Rs – it shouldn’t be retrofitted when they leave.

On bringing more people into tech:

I've just had a young person ask for help to pivot from hospitality into tech. I believe it is all about seeing it through the lens of “how can I use what I've already got?” For example, a strong work ethic, relationship building, or collaboration. We need to encourage the people responsible for the hiring to focus on transferable skills. And let's face it, we are already more than 1.2 million jobs shy of the number that we need in tech pre-pandemic. As we enter 2021, that number will have skyrocketed.

On work experience:

A study by Founders4Schools showed that young people are 50% more likely to get a job if they've had work experience in that area. Employers also have a responsibility to open their doors not just to the perfect profile but to every young person.

On career advice:

We used to have libraries with careers corner as well as designated teachers offering career advice at school. Now it’s all fragmented and hard to find. We need more joined-up signposting on where young people can get advice and where employers can give it. As a country, we should be far more effective at bridging employers and future employees. 

On social mobility:

Angel investor Sherry Coutu launched a brilliant app called Workfinder, helping young people aged 16 to 24 to search and apply for local work experience placements in growing businesses. It is one of the best national programmes I’ve seen, helping to level the playing field for those who do not have parental connections and tackling social mobility and regional inclusion head on. #NotJustLondon

 On government support:

More than 60% of all jobs are created by small businesses and yet a large percentage of them still do not have a web presence. Government could support SMEs by switching tax breaks from CapEx to OpEX. This small shift would allow small firms to access new technologies through the cloud as a service rather than having to become tech experts themselves. It would move the needle on productivity and I believe these small interventions will drive economic recovery and digital adoption.

On digital inclusion:

There is still a huge digital divide in this country. Around a million children and young people don't have proper access to devices or the internet at home. We can't have a situation where a parent is trying to home-school three kids on one smartphone. The government must make sure everyone has access to technology and we need broadband everywhere. It should be treated like a utility.

On diversity:

Diversity has to be at the heart of our culture post pandemic. If we narrow our thinking to a small group of people, we will create blind spots. For the nation to thrive, we must look outwards, not inwards, so that we are ready for what comes next. John Amaechi OBE [British psychologist and former professional basketball player] said, “People make choices. Choices make culture.” We have to make and help others make better choices. We have to start seeing beyond our privilege and play our part with small actions of tolerance and inclusion. The greatest threat to diversity is the belief that someone else will fix it.

To create a more inclusive society, I would…

… kick-start a revival of the Saturday job; we killed it off for health and safety reasons and we have ended up wrapping our young people in cotton wool. We need to find ways to create confidence and capability in the workplace early on and give everyone a fair chance.