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Majority of young people confused and unprepared for AI opportunities

1st February 2024 by OnSide

We recently surveyed almost 1,000 young people aged 8-25 and found that more than 60% of young people know either little or nothing about AI, and nearly 70% are not learning about AI in school.

Despite research suggesting there will be a 40% increase in demand for jobs requiring AI or machine learning skills in the next five years* the most common feeling towards AI is ‘confused,’ and when asked if they thought AI would help them to get a job in the future, the majority of young people (68%) answered either no, or that they were unsure.

The poll, carried out across our network of youth centres (called Youth Zones) was commissioned to coincide with the launch of Gen AI Pioneers, a groundbreaking new pilot programme developed in partnership with leading digital venture builder Blenheim Chalcot to upskill young people from the most economically disadvantaged communities in Generative AI technology.

AI has been a major focus of investment and training in the UK by both the Government and tech giants such as Microsoft**, but despite this push more than half of young people (52%) said they don’t know how to access Generative AI tools like ChatGPT. And when asked if they thought AI would have a good or bad impact on the world more than six in 10 (65%) said either a bad impact, or that they were unsure.

OnSide’s Gen AI Pioneers programme aims to address this by helping young people to understand what AI is and how to use it confidently and safely. AI experts at Blenheim Chalcot will train youth workers across our network of Youth Zones, in how to introduce GenAI tools to the young people they work with.

Youth workers will also be trained in how to integrate the technology into existing activities at Youth Zones, such as music composition, digital art creation, video production and cooking. Participants will also work towards achieving a new certification as a Generative AI Pioneer, accredited through the venture builder’s training arm.

Charles Mindenhall is co-founder of Blenheim Chalcot and chair of OnSide. He said:

“Understanding AI and knowing how to use it confidently is going to be a key skill for young people going into the jobs market in the coming years, but young people are telling us they are confused and unsure about what AI is, how to use it and what it means for their future prospects.

“The programme will equip young people with these valuable skills, while also giving them the chance to receive formal accreditation that they can use to demonstrate these skills to future employers. Crucially, it will also address safety concerns around AI head on, by incorporating education on data protection, online safety, trustworthiness and malicious content, to ensure that young people are equipped with the knowledge to navigate the AI landscape safely.”

Digital poverty – a lack of access to a reliable internet connection and devices like tablets or laptops – is more likely to affect young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and impact how much they can engage with emerging technology like AI.

In addition the UK faces a growing digital skills gap, and this is particularly stark in areas of high socioeconomic deprivation. This gap has a significant impact on the economy, with UK employers struggling to fill 43% of STEM vacancies. People from low-income backgrounds are also underrepresented in STEM, with only 15% of STEM graduates coming from the poorest 20% of households.

Our Chief Executive, Jamie Masraff, said:

“It is critical that we bridge the digital skills gap, prevent the most disadvantaged young people from being left behind and enable them to take advantage of the opportunities and skills needed for the future economy.

“Gen AI Pioneers will equip young people with the practical knowledge, skills, and confidence to understand and use artificial intelligence – by introducing it to them within the safe and familiar environment of their local youth centre, under the guidance of trusted youth workers and alongside their friends and peers, rather than alone isolated in their bedrooms.

“With our poll showing that under a quarter of young people are learning about AI in school, we cannot rely solely on schools to address this. We hope that our learnings from this pilot will be useful to others in the youth sector on the important role that we can play to help young people to become work ready.”

The pilot will involves young people aged 13 to 19 at Future Youth Zone in Barking and Dagenham in January. The programme will then be rolled out to a further nine Youth Zones later in the year with hundreds more young people set to take part across the OnSide Network.

Sean Kerry, 17, is a member of OnSide’s Future Youth Zone in Barking and Dagenham. Commenting on the Gen AI Pioneers programme he said:

“I’m studying audio technology at college and it does worry me that there might not be a job for me in this industry because AI can do so much, but I’m also excited to see what the future holds and how human creativity can work alongside AI.

“I’m really into tech, it’s always been my passion, and I’ve used AI to help me edit videos and create graphic designs. But I think a lot of young people are confused and lack knowledge about what AI is and how it can help them.

“AI technology is advancing every day and it’s easy to worry about people with malicious intent using it, or to feel overwhelmed and unsure. That’s why I think this project is a great idea as it’ll help young people to feel more confident about what AI is and how to use it safely.”



**https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-100-million-fund-to-capitalise-on-ais-game-changing-potential-in-life-sciences-and-healthcare and https://www.gov.uk/government/news/boost-for-uk-ai-as-microsoft-unveils-25-billion-investment