02 Dec 2016

Skills Skills Skills

In the space of the past twenty four hours, the wires have been humming with news of EU Commission’s launch of the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition, Oracle’s donation of $1.4 billion to computer sciences and digital skills learning and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, unveiling a £7m Digital Talent Programme to arm young Londoners with the skills they need to access jobs in the capital’s thriving digital, technology and creative industries.

It may be a coincidence that these stories, much to the chagrin of the respective PRs, have broken at the same time or it might simply be that the subject of Digital Skills is now main stream news.

I’d err with the later and it’s not before time that we elevated tech stories from the business pages to the front sections of our on and off line media.

Every single economic indicator, global or local, has been screaming for over a decade, since the mass deployment of broadband and mobile access technologies, that the next industrial revolution will be in the cloud and that the jobs of the future will require computing skills and yet we have somehow managed to ignore the signs.

In 2006 the world’s top six most valuable public companies included General Electric, Citigroup, BP & Royal Dutch Shell. Today these business have been replaced with Apple, Alphabet (Google), Amazon & Facebook. Only ExxonMobil and Microsoft, another tech giant, are common to both lists ten years on, giving credence to the saying that ‘data is the new oil’.

During this same period, Europe has seen demand for workers with computer science and coding skills grow by four percent each year, year on year, and with no sign of abatement.

Back in June of this year, The UK Government’s Science and Technology Committee published a report which frankly made depressing if inevitable reading. The report warns that the UK will need 745,000 extra digitally skilled workers, across all sectors, by 2017. As this wasn’t challenging enough, the report sets out the size of the task in plugging this skills gap, by revealing that 12.6 million adults in the UK lack basic digital skills; 5.8 million people have never used the internet; only 35% of computer teachers in schools have a relevant degree and computing science teacher recruitment sees a 30% shortfall.

If we just focused on Scotland, the figures would be just as shocking. 1 million Scots don’t have internet access. 30 per cent of the Scottish population lack basic digital skills. The number of computing teachers has fallen from 802 to 598 over the past ten years and 17% of secondary schools have no computing specialist. According to projections by Deloitte, Scotland is set to lose £9bn in potential gains over the next 15 years if it doesn’t adopt a visionary digital action plan.

And there we have the crux of the problem. Education in its broadest sense.

We are currently guilty of failing our young people and we are denying them one of the greatest gifts that we can bestow: opportunity. We are anchoring them at the wrong end of the technology food chain and in doing so we are damaging the economic and social prospects of our nations.

It’s not just the formal education system that is failing our young people but the support provided by parents and carers to them as they develop and make life choices.

What is the likelihood of a parent who has never used the internet suggesting to their son or daughter that they consider a career in data analytics or cyber security? I’m not a betting man but I reckon the odds would be pretty high.

At least in Scotland the Education system appears to have woken from its slumber and is starting to make positive changes. There is a recognition that computing science and digital subjects are vital and are now being placed at the heart of the curriculum, more specialist teachers are being recruited and classrooms are being upgraded with latest technology. But, to use an oil analogy again, the education system is one big tanker and it’s going to take time to turn it around.

Changing the perceptions and attitudes of parents and carers towards computing and digital careers on the other hand will take even longer. This is one of the reasons why it is so important that the main media channels, both on and offline, continue to promote the digital world and the opportunities it offers as mainstream at every turn. Oh if there is anyone reading this with TV commissioning responsibilities, please can we have some children’s programmes on computing and technology and the odd Data Centre Network engineer or App Designer wouldn’t go amiss in a soap or two.

So is it all doom and gloom? Have we really created a booming sector and somehow overlooked the development of the talent pipeline to fuel its continued growth?

Well Yes, the facts can’t be disputed, but on the other hand, what is now encouraging and apparent is that we (‘we’ being Government, Education and Industry) have finally recognised that there is a real issue to be addressed and that the time for rhetoric and spin is over and we now need action.

Over the past two years and since the publication of the tech sector Skills Investment Plan by Skills Development Scotland, the country has witnessed some real progress and managed some positive gains.

Only this week Edinburgh based CodeClan, the Digital Skills Academy that delivers intensive programming courses and helps people to reskill and move into the tech sector, celebrated its first birthday by announcing expansion plans into Glasgow. During its inaugural year 166 students have started the course, 101 have completed, with 59 ‘inflight’, and 80% of those who have completed the course are now in relevant jobs. An impressive start.

The DigitalWorld Campaign launched last year is a national initiative that inspires and supports people to go into digital technology careers. Over the past twelve months, using a mix of online and face to face, it has reached thousands of young people and, importantly, their parents, promoting technology and the attractiveness of the sector at every opportunity.

We are also beginning to truly harness and appreciate the power of ‘in work learning’ as we see more and more young people, supported by industry, seek internships and apprenticeships to help them ‘earn whilst they learn’ whilst gaining valuable skills and experience , for example through the highly successful e-placement Scotland programme.

And finally, we have at last woken up to the fact that we need to capture the hearts and minds of our young people long before they are in a position to select their subject choices at S3.

Today’s children are the first generation for whom technology is omnipresent -affecting every element of their lives from the moment they were born. Computational thinking as a skill has never been more needed and we’re seeing recognition of this reflected in preschool and primary services providing children with educational tools to encourage the development of computer and coding skills.

Another hugely positive development has been the acceptance of the importance of extracurricular activities to complement, in some cases filling a void, formal school activity.

The Digital Xtra Fund was created in May this year by the Scottish Government, who contributed £400,000 to fund extracurricular computing science and digital activities for under 16s across Scotland.

In its first year the Fund has supported a wide range of innovative projects that will directly reach over 15,000 young people across the country. Funded projects have included the training of public library employees to deliver Code Clubs to young people across 28 of the 32 Local Authority Library Services and the extension of the Apps for Good programme across Scotland. Apps for Good will now engage 2,500 young people and provide them with the opportunity to design, build, market and launch apps to solve problems in their communities.

It has to be recognised that what we are trying to achieve here is as much a cultural shift as it is simply a skills rebalance but we have at least started the journey. And it is a journey.

And if we are to continue on an upward path then it is essential that we (Government, Education, Industry) don’t sit back and wait for others to solve the problems. We all have the same goal and we will achieve it if we pool resources and work together.

Two of the initiatives mentioned – CodeClan and DigitalXtra Fund – need industry buy in if they are to succeed and continue to grow. CodeClan requires employer partners and DigitalXtra requires funds to continue to support innovative projects that can make a real difference to young Scot’s lives.

If you want to help the DigitalXtra Fund please CONTACT US NOW.

 

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03 Oct 2016

Digital Xtra opens new round of funding for extracurricular computing projects

Scotland’s Digital Xtra Fund launched in May 2016 and awarded £250,000 to 12 projects, which expect to reach a combined total of 10,500 young people across the country by March 2017. An additional £150,000 has now been made available in response to the high number of applications received for the first round of funding.

Applications open today (3 October) via Public Contracts Scotland and eligible organisations can bid for grants from £1,500 to a maximum £25,000 per project to support computing science and digital skills focused extracurricular activities for 2016/17.

Funding is intended to support enterprising organisations that give young people aged 16 and under opportunities to learn computer science related digital skills and contribute to widening the provision of extracurricular computing science related activities across Scotland.

Scottish Government strategy sets out an ambitious plan to make Scotland a world-class digital nation by 2020. Over 84,000 people work in digital technologies roles across the Scottish economy and skills development will be an integral component in helping young people prepare for the digital future. Career opportunities are significant, with up to an estimated 11,000 job opportunities available in Scotland annually.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, said:

“The Scottish Government is determined to close the digital skills gap faced by all sectors across the economy. We made clear our commitment to invest in the digital skills of our young people in the digital teaching and learning strategy we published last week. This additional funding for Digital Xtra will give thousands more young people opportunities to strengthen their digital skills through their engagement in a range of innovative projects.”

Digital Xtra has been developed and funded by the Digital Scotland Business Excellence Partnership whose partners include Scottish Government, Skills Development Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Funding Council, Education Scotland, ScotlandIS, and industry representatives.

It is anticipated that industry, employers and other funders will contribute to the fund in subsequent years, making this a sustainable approach.

Applications will be assessed by an expert panel which includes representatives from across Scotland’s digital technologies industry, Scottish Government and education.

Phil Worms, Computing and Schools Project Lead at ScotlandIS, says:

“The panel was impressed by the many innovative ideas and partnerships received in the first round so it is fantastic to be able to offer a further funding opportunity this year and make extracurricular computing activities available to even more young people.

“Once again we are very keen to see collaborative applications involving different partners and projects that foster greater links between industry, young people and the wider community. Projects should also show how participants will be involved in digital making and what computer science related skills they will learn.”

The Digital Xtra Fund welcomes applications from existing initiatives looking to expand their activities, as well as from innovative new projects and pilots that could be rolled out further in future. All applicants should clearly demonstrate potential for scalability and sustainability, as well as showing how they will reach previously underrepresented groups.

A total of £250,000 was awarded to 12 projects in August 2016, supporting a diverse range of activities including the use of wildlife cameras to help school pupils learn to code using Raspberry Pi computers, coding taught through local libraries, and a forensic investigation project.

Apply online at PUBLIC CONTRACTS SCOTLAND

Public Contracts Scotland Helpline Number: 0800 222 9003

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29 Sep 2016

DigitalXtra Event Showcases Extracurricular Computing Projects

Digital Xtra hosted an event at the IET Teacher Building Glasgow on today designed to showcase some of the projects that had been awarded grants in the first tranche of funding. 

Teams from Rampaging Chariots Guild, Forfar Academy Angus Young Engineers Club and Scottish Council for Development & Industry in partnership with BT, gave practical demonstrations of their extracurricular projects. Whilst project members from Edinburgh College, Inverness College and Scottish Libraries and Information Council gave presentations to an audience which included senior representatives from across Scotland’s technology, education and public sectors. 

The event was formally opened by Polly Purvis, CEO, ScotlandIS and a member of the cross organisation Steering Group that has developed the Digital Xtra Fund programme. 

The Audience also heard presentations from Maggie Morrison, VP, Public Sector CGI, who highlighted the challenges faced by Scotland’s technology and digital sector in attracting new talent into the industry, and from Ian Ritchie CBE, who provided an overview of the plans for the Digital Xtra Fund moving forward highlighting how important extracurricular activities are for generating interest in computing science subjects in young people. 

Members of the audience were invited to consider ways in which their organisations can actively support the aims and objectives of the Digital Xtra Fund. 

A Full Set of Presentations given on the Day can be downloaded HERE

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22 Sep 2016

New funding opportunity with Digital Xtra coming soon

Scotland’s Digital Xtra Fund is to make an additional £150,000 available to support computing science and digital skills focused extracurricular activities for 2016/17.

Applications will open in early October and eligible organisations will be able to bid for grants from £1500 to a maximum £25000 per project.

The Digital Xtra Fund launched in May 2016 and is part of a wider programme of activity dedicated to developing digital skills and making extracurricular computing science activities available to all young people aged 16 and under, whatever their background and wherever they live in Scotland.

A total of £250,000 was awarded to 12 projects in August 2016, supporting a diverse range of activities including the use of wildlife cameras to help school pupils learn to code using Raspberry Pi computers, coding taught through local libraries, and a forensic investigation project. [Link to funded projects on SDS.]

The Digital Xtra Fund has been developed and funded by the Digital Scotland Business Excellence Partnership whose partners include Scottish Government, Skills Development Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Funding Council, Education Scotland, ScotlandIS, and industry representatives.

Funding is intended to support enterprising organisations that give young people opportunities to learn computer science related digital skills and contribute to widening the provision of extracurricular computing science related activities across Scotland.

The Scottish Government strategy sets out an ambitious plan to make Scotland a world-class digital nation by 2020. Over 84,000 people work in digital technologies roles across the Scottish economy and skills development will be an integral component in helping young people prepare for the digital future.

Phil Worms, Computing and Schools Project lead at tech industry body ScotlandIS, says:

“At a time when the Scottish digital technologies sector is forecast to grow and there is increasing demand across the economy for staff with high level digital technology skills, it is clear that the talent pipeline in Scotland needs to expand to meet this demand.

“More young people should be encouraged to study computing science related subjects at school, college and university and redressing this balance is crucial to ensure the competitiveness of Scottish companies both within the digital technology sector and beyond.

“The Digital Xtra Fund aims to make a real and lasting impact in the provision of extracurricular computing science related activities for young people aged 16 years and under across the whole of Scotland. Projects that will be considered for grant funding must clearly demonstrate scalability, sustainability and innovation.

“The core objective of the Digital Xtra Fund is to increase the number of young people learning computer science related digital skills in an extracurricular setting. Therefore, projects should show clearly how participants will be involved in digital making and what computer science related skills they will learn.”

Collaborative applications involving different partners and more than one extracurricular initiative will be encouraged as well as projects that foster greater links between industry, young people and the wider community.

The fund is due to open for applications in early October with funding expected to be awarded towards the end of 2016.

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05 Aug 2016

‘Digital Dozen’ awarded funding to get young people into tech

Scotland’s Digital Xtra fund has awarded £250,000 to 12 projects that will help to develop computing science related skills in young people across the country.

Awards of between £715 and £48,000 have been made to support a diverse range of activities including a project which uses a wildlife camera to help school pupils learn to code using Raspberry Pi computers, coding taught through local libraries, and a forensic investigation project.

The funded initiatives will reach a combined total of over 10,500 young people across the country, with a particular focus on engaging those from harder to reach groups. The projects will bring new opportunities to rural and disadvantaged areas as well as encouraging more girls to try computing.

Launched in May 2016, Digital Xtra has been administered by Skills Development Scotland and developed in partnership by SDS, ScotlandIS, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and Education Scotland.

Despite an increasing number of projects being delivered around the country, SDS research found that there is still considerable unmet demand, so the partners plan to make this an annual fund to support even more activity.

Digital Xtra applications were submitted through Public Contracts Scotland and evaluated by an independent panel of ten experts from Scotland’s digital technologies industry, Scottish Government and education.

The fund received 95 applications and the panel prioritised applications that demonstrated long-term sustainability, partnership working and innovation. Awards were made to new projects as well as applications from existing initiatives that clearly demonstrated plans to extend their reach and content.

Claire Gillespie, key sector manager for ICT and Digital Skills at Skills Development Scotland said:

“Our young people are avid consumers of technology but it’s important that we inspire them to take computing science seriously and have the chance to become the next generation of digital makers.

“Hands on extracurricular activities are an excellent way to get young people excited about digital technology and the difference people can make when they have specialist skills. Every single young person in Scotland should have access to activities of this kind and this joined up approach to funding is an important step towards achieving that goal.”

Shirley-Anne Somerville, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, said:

“The Scottish Government is committed to closing the digital skills gap faced by all sectors across the economy and investing in the digital skills of our young people is crucial to achieving this ambition. It’s important that we encourage our children and young people to develop their digital skills from a young age. Digital Xtra is giving thousands of young people opportunities to strengthen their skills in this area through their engagement in a range of innovative projects.”

Skills Development Scotland will undertake an independent evaluation of all funded initiatives to develop understanding of the projects that made the greatest impact and shape future programmes.

Among the awards is Tweety Pi, a partnership between SCDI and BT that will bring the natural and digital worlds together with wildlife watching cameras powered by Raspberry Pi computers that have been coded by students. It will be open to 900 pupils in Dumfries & Galloway, Moray, and Orkney.

Scottish Libraries and Information Council and Code Club have been awarded funding for a joint project that will train library staff to deliver 12 week coding clubs to 9-11 year olds across 27 of Scotland’s 32 library services. Midlothian Council also received funding to support coding clubs in libraries.

Edinburgh College and Oracle have partnered for CSI Forensic Investigation, a four week project inspired by the popular CSI television series. Participants aged 12-16 will learn a variety of digital skills including video production and coding. In the final week they will be given starter information for a crime and use a variety of digital tools and techniques to build a case against one of the subjects.

Digital Xtra also made an award to Queens Cross Housing Association and Glasgow Kelvin College for a joint initiative to engage young people from North Glasgow with Minecraft and Raspberry Pi coding workshops hosted at the city’s MAKLab innovation facility. A pop up event for 100 young people and their families will complement the workshops.

Angus Young Engineers from Forfar Academy will use its funding to roll out an after school computing club for secondary pupils and pupils from its cluster primary schools in Angus. It will be delivered with involvement from FIRST Lego League, the international competition that challenges school pupils to create scientific solutions to real world problems.

Funding will also allow Apps for Good to extend the reach of its extracurricular work with schools across Scotland. It will train teachers to deliver coding courses and teach pupils to design and develop mobile, web and social apps that solve problems young people care about.

The other successful applicants are: Inverness College UHI; Edinburgh International Science Festival; The Prince’s Trust; Ian Findlay Design and Troqueer Primary School; and Rampaging Chariots Guild.

Digital Xtra is part of a programme of activity dedicated to developing skills and making extracurricular computing activities accessible to all young people aged 16 and under, whatever their background and wherever they live in Scotland.

The Digital Scotland Business Excellence Partnership provided funding for the first year of the Digital Xtra fund and it is anticipated that industry, employers and other funders will contribute in subsequent years, making this a sustainable approach.

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18 May 2016

Digital Xtra Fund Now Open for Applications

Coding, computing, web development and digital animation are just some of the activities that could benefit from Digital Xtra, a new fund dedicated to widening access to extracurricular computing related projects in Scotland which opens for applications today!

The fund aims to make extracurricular computing clubs accessible to all young people aged 16 and under, wherever they live in Scotland. A panel of experts from Scotland’s digital technologies industry, Scottish Government and education will evaluate applications.

The fund is calling for applications from a wide range of organisations with the capability to deliver, as well as from existing projects who are encouraged to use the opportunity to pioneer new approaches or expand to rural areas. The evaluation panel will prioritise projects that demonstrate scalability, sustainability and innovative ways of engaging additional young people, especially in areas where there is a shortage of provision.

Projects must involve young people in activities that develop computational thinking rather than simply consuming or learning about technologies. Successful applications will include activities which increase the number of young people taking part in computer science related activities across Scotland, improve participation of girls and underrepresented groups and promote computing science as an attractive career path.

Applications are open now through Public Contract Scotland where full information can be found.

Deadline for applications is 12:00 noon on Friday 17 June 2016.
 
All questions or queries should be submitted via the Public Contracts Scotland portal
 
Any issues with registration please contact PCS helpline direct on 0800 222 9003

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09 May 2016

New fund for activities to broaden pupils’ digital horizons

A new fund will support Scotland’s drive to attract more young people into digital careers by widening access to extracurricular and enrichment activities that bring technology to life.

The new Digital Xtra fund will be dedicated to ensuring that every child across the country has the opportunity to benefit from exciting and challenging digital activities such as after school coding clubs, competitions and innovative classroom programmes.

The £250,000 fund will be administered centrally by Skills Development Scotland and will accept applications from a wide range of organisations across Scotland such as education providers and schools, the voluntary sector and employers.

Applications open later in May and full criteria and documentation will be available online via the Public Contracts Scotland website.

The fund aims to make initiatives more accessible and sustainable across the whole country, and address the current shortage of extracurricular and enrichment provision in rural areas. It will also focus on fostering cutting edge initiatives as well as sharing best practice.

Developed in partnership by Skills Development Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, ScotlandIS and Education Scotland, the new fund is part of an innovative and coordinated approach to how digital extracurricular and enrichment activities are supported. It will allow public sector bodies, Scottish Government, voluntary sector and industry to work together to support projects in a more coordinated way.

Over 84,000 people work in digital technologies roles across the Scottish economy in fields as diverse as artificial intelligence, games development, digital media, cyber security and data science. And with the world changing, digital technology has become one of the fastest growing sectors, creating an estimated 11,000 job vacancies in Scotland every year.

Talent pipeline

Polly Purvis, chief executive of ScotlandIS, the trade body for the digital technologies industry, says: “The growth in the digital technologies industry and reliance on digital across the wider economy means that employers require ever increasing numbers of skilled people. To ensure that we have a healthy talent pipeline for the future it’s important that industry works together with the public sector to support activities that bring digital technology to life and demonstrate its possibilities for our young people.”

Claire Gillespie, key sector manager for ICT and digital technology skills at SDS says: “The new system will help funders to prioritise the most relevant initiatives as funding requests will be reviewed together rather than on an ad hoc basis. It will support an industry led, innovative and sustainable approach to funding such initiatives and will make it easier to evaluate interventions including value for money and make recommendations for future delivery.”

Joyce MacLennan, head of finance and business services for Highlands and Islands Enterprise, says: “We need to offer opportunities for all of Scotland’s future young workforce to develop digital skills. There are many exciting activities already happening across the country but it is often difficult for schools in more rural areas to attend events or access activities. This project is looking at ways to overcome any barriers, increase participation, and explore opportunities to extend the reach of successful projects into more rural areas.”

As part of the new approach, all extracurricular digital initiatives will be mapped to the curriculum to enable schools and teachers to make best use of them. Online resources will be developed to increase awareness of the full range of initiatives and best practice case studies and ideas will be made available for teachers and schools.

It is also planned that school pupils, parents and volunteers will be able to search for initiatives in their local area and find out how they can get involved.

The Digital Scotland Business Excellence Partnership will provide funding for the first year, and it is anticipated that industry, employers and other funders will contribute in subsequent years, making this a sustainable approach.

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