New schools careers initiative to plug digital skills gap

A new school careers scheme is addressing teachers’ lack of understanding about the digital industries and the shortage of up-to-date information on how school leavers can get digital jobs. Digital Advantage was set up in response to feedback from creative and digital employers who think the national curriculum and classroom careers advice is failing to equip school leavers with the skills and experience needed to fill thousands of digital jobs. Employers report that schools do not have the technical know-how, latest careers information or relevant work experience links needed to prepare pupils for common roles such as web design, advertising, software development, marketing, social media, mobile technology and e-commerce. Earlier this month MPs from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee warned that the UK needs another 745,000 workers with digital skills by 2017. The ‘Digital Skills Crisis’ report identified that the skills gap costs the economy around £63bn a year in lost income.  Digital Advantage is working with over 500 students aged 16-18 from 20 schools and colleges in Greater Manchester and Lancashire and has been developed in line with the government’s drive to extend after-school activities. It has developed a two-term digital enterprise course that brings industry experts into school classrooms to teach the latest digital employability skills and provide real-world careers advice.  Twenty four hours of teaching and mentoring helps young people to understand the digital industries and give them the skills they need to get into it. The course has been designed by industry to help pupils develop new business ideas, use the latest digital technologies, create portfolios of their own work and improve core skills in communication, team work and problem solving.  Teachers receive training on how to prepare students for the digital workplace and integrate digital skills development into existing lessons. They also get support with setting up school coding clubs and digital holiday camps. Students benefit from work place visits, inspirational talks from industry experts and, this year, the chance to win a £5,000 start-up prize for creating a digital business. The scheme encourages sixth formers to consider an apprenticeship in the creative and digital industries straight from school rather than going to university. It aims to help 16-18 year olds secure well-paid, entry level digital jobs, straight from school. Every sixth former that completes Digital Advantage’s course is guaranteed an interview with a digital company for one of over 200 apprenticeships in the North West region.  Bernie Furey, assistant head teacher at St Ambrose Barlow RC High School in Salford said: “Digital Advantage has given the pupils a flavour of what it would be like to work in the creative and digital industries. Some of our highest achieving pupils are now considering a career in these industries, something which they previously would not have considered.” Jackie Holt, managing partner at communications agency BJL and the IPA’s (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) North West City Head said: “As both an agency head and a mum of a 14 year old boy, I’m very impressed by the opportunity that Digital Advantage brings to schools, teachers, kids and even parents. Schools need to forge better links with working environments, showcasing the type of real-life challenges that their pupils are going to face in 2-3 years. Teachers need support to be able to deliver that insight and knowledge so initiatives that provide real briefs can be inspirational. Kids are exposed to working collaboratively, under pressure and importantly with a competitive perspective – something that they definitely will face in the working world.” Andy Lovatt, managing director of The White Room, which delivers Digital Advantage said: “We want to show high achieving sixth formers that university isn’t their only option. Creative, technical and business brains are desperately needed right across digital industry. Students that get apprenticeships through Digital Advantage will benefit from high quality work experience, respected qualifications and good starting salaries; giving them a head start in the digital industries over young people coming out of university.” Digital Advantage is funded by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, City Deal Apprenticeship Hub Funding.