Digital skills, youth employment and coworking spaces: An interview with an expert

Technology progresses rapidly and its advancements affect nearly every aspect of our daily lives – but this rapid speed does make some people fall behind in their skills development, creating the so-called “skills gap”. George Zervos is an IT contractor, with more than 10 years of experience in the digital skills sector, and he shares with us his thoughts about youth and employment. Additionally, since Cowork4YOUTH is also about coworking, we did ask him a couple of questions about his own experience in relevant spaces and their role in the improvement of the local economy and job market.

1. When did you start working as an IT contractor and what made you get into this line of work?

I earned my computer science degree from the University in 2010, coinciding with the onset of the European recession. Back then, I held a strong belief that I could secure a job as a programmer, but reality proved me wrong. I found myself in London, tirelessly searching for employment opportunities. Unfortunately, it was a challenging period, as many companies were downsizing and giving preference to candidates with prior experience, something I lacked fresh out of university. The age-old conundrum emerged: How do you gain experience without a job that provides it?

Driven by my need for work, a desire to accrue valuable experience, and a longing to explore new horizons, I made a significant decision. I accepted a job offer in Southeast Asia, which led me down an alternative career path for several years. While this role wasn’t my initial dream job, I came to realize that it equipped me with a diverse set of skills that could be seamlessly integrated with technology.

Four years ago, I returned to the IT sector, reinvigorated and with a newfound perspective. I embarked on a journey as an IT contractor for a German firm. The beauty of possessing a technology degree and technical skills lies in their enduring value. The tech industry’s adaptability ensures that these competencies remain highly relevant and sought after.

2. What kind of digital skills would you consider are necessary for a young person nowadays in order to find a job?

If I were to embark on a university journey today or pursue a new skill, my preference would lean towards specializing in Artificial Intelligence or Data Science, given their current high demand. My primary focus would be on attaining expertise in at least one programming language, particularly Python, and striving for mastery in it.

Nevertheless, it’s crucial to recognize that proficiency in coding alone may not guarantee success in these competitive fields. To enhance my employability, I would make sure to acquaint myself with remote work and digital communication tools, including platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams, along with project management tools like Trello, Asana or Jira. Equally important is the way one presents oneself to potential employers, as well as having critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

3. Have you identified any gaps in digital skills training and development during your interaction with (young) clients/ colleagues and if yes, which are they?

I’ve noticed a few issues, and the most significant concern is that many people lack the necessary skills to stay safe and navigate the internet properly. Some individuals struggle with creating strong passwords for their email accounts and often resort to using the same password for all their online accounts, which is highly risky. Additionally, recognizing fake emails, identifying phishing attempts, and understanding the potential risks of sharing personal information online pose challenges for many. Even those who are proficient with apps and websites may encounter difficulties in managing their time and organizing tasks effectively in the digital realm. This can lead to problems in handling emails, calendars, and digital tasks efficiently. When it comes to skills, I would argue that a significant portion of the population is not proficient in coding. In today’s digital world, it is becoming increasingly essential to have at least a basic understanding of one programming language. This is akin to real-life languages; could you survive in today’s globalized world without knowing English?

4. What is your experience of co/working spaces? Do you believe that they offer other advantages, besides desk space for working?

In 2016, I was living and working remotely in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This was when coworking spaces in Southeast Asia began to proliferate, and the entire digital nomad trend started to gain momentum. At that time, I was working from my apartment, which at some point became very isolating, so I started going to a newly opened coworking space. I met many people from all walks of life and made great connections on a personal and professional level. Some were doing dropshipping, others were coders, and others were managing a travel blog. Eventually, I made some connections, and we launched a mobile app startup, which even made it into the top 10 selections of a startup accelerator based in Shanghai, China. Although the project did not ultimately continue, it provided me with valuable experience in bootstrapping a startup with a team and how to use digital tools effectively, such as Trello. It was a great and valuable experience, meeting and collaborating with a team on a daily basis, and I also found that it boosted my productivity being around motivated individuals. There were also a lot of networking events in the startup scene which I attended, such as the Nomad Summit. Generally speaking, you also gain a sense of community and belonging, so I can definitely see a lot of benefits working in co/working spaces.

5. Do you believe that coworking spaces can contribute to the improvement of the local economy and job market?

I firmly believe that coworking spaces can contribute to that. Coworking spaces often attract entrepreneurs and startups. These small firms can expand, create jobs, and thereby contribute to the local economy. I view coworking spaces as supportive ecosystems for these businesses to flourish because they foster networking among professionals from diverse industries. Some coworking spaces could also provide workshops, seminars, and training programs to enhance the skills of local workers and entrepreneurs, resulting in a more skilled local workforce. Another important factor to consider is that coworking spaces generate job opportunities for local service providers, including cleaners, maintenance staff, and event organizers.

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