The positive potential of digital skills

Anna Grant from the Carnegie UK Trust explores the impact that developing digital skills can have for many young people across the UK.

“I’m proud of my film and think it’s great… I look forward to coming here, it’s not like anywhere else in Barrow, I’m allowed to do creative things instead of rotting away” – Greg[1], Signal Film Participant in the #NotWithoutMe Programme.

When reflecting on the impact of the #NotWithoutMe digital inclusion programme, this is one of the lines that has stuck with me. Greg was 18 years old and had been recommended by his local Youth Offending Team to take part in a new one-to-one digital skills training project, #NotWithoutMe.

#NotWithoutMe supports the development of new and engaging digital inclusion projects, working specifically with vulnerable young people. Contrary to some popular media headlines, young people are not ‘digital natives’. They are not born with an innate ability to thrive in the online world. They require ongoing access and help to develop their digital confidence and digital resilience. Vulnerable young people are most in need of this support.

To date, #NotWithoutMe has worked with vulnerable young people in partnership with Mencap Northern Ireland in Belfast and County Fermanagh, Signal Film and Media in North West England, The Pavilion in Greater London, and Young Scot and The Prince’s Trust in Glasgow.

The projects worked in diverse geographic areas, with young people experiencing a range of vulnerabilities.

Despite differing abilities, interests and motivations among these young people, a number of findings were remarkably consistent across the programme. One of these findings concerned the role of digital skills in allowing young people to develop their confidence and explore their identity or ‘self’ online. Whilst professionals may sometimes be guilty of discussing the opportunities of digital skills in rather transactional or even dry language such as ‘increasing economic potential’, the online world has such a variety of interesting and valuable opportunities for young people that we should be mindful to think of wellbeing in holistic, not simply economic terms. Across the #NotWithoutMe programme, numerous examples of young people’s self-development have been highlighted:

  • Engagement with difficult topics, particularly regarding their own ‘labels’
  • Allowed the young people to explore and express their experiences and identities in a way they have not been able to previously
  • Photography, film making and blogging were all approaches of content creation that allowed different individuals to better communicate with those around them, and particularly with their adult support networks
  • Provided the opportunity for some of the young people to interact with other groups of young people that they would not usually come into contact with

However, with online access, naturally comes concern of access to increased risk. All of the organisations involved, framed the need that the young people are supported by trained, knowledgeable and confident staff, parents or carers. Adult supervision and guidance is vital in enabling young people to effectively navigate the content they are consuming or creating, and to develop suitable awareness of safety, privacy and appropriate behaviours.

So if we return to Greg’s story. Despite being an initially reluctant participant, the project team soon discovered that Greg loved to write rap lyrics, but had never performed publically, or filmed himself performing. So he became really excited about making a music video. He mastered the basic digital skills needed to create and upload his new content, and would even come in on his own time work on the project. His final film can be viewed here.

In summing up Greg’s progress, the project staff said: “The way that he [Greg] engaged with the project, and his care worker said as well, was amazing that he has never really done anything like that before and it really took him out of his normal daily life, and it was a really big step for him to do that and his level of involvement, they thought, was remarkable and he has since come to [events] and been in to see us as well, independently. He went to sessions of another youth project that we run, which again was massive for him.”

Signal Film and Media have since received support from the Police Crime Commissioner to continue their work through the #NotWithoutMe Programme.

We need to think about the positive opportunities that access to the digital world can bring, and the need to ensure that adults who support young people feel knowledgeable and confident to support them online.

This is only one story of 100 young people that the #NotWithoutMe programme has worked with to date. To find our more, you can download the full report, contact or visit the #NotWithoutMe programme page. You can also follow all the latest developments on Twitter at #NotWithoutMe.

[1] Name changed

Photo courtesy of Signal Film and Media.

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