BT joins forces with Digital Xtra Fund to inspire young Scots

A digital skills charity has launched a new partnership with a communications giant to help make more extracurricular computing science activities available to young people across Scotland.

Dalry primary school pupils Kelly Zheng (right), 10, and Jennifer Shek, nine, work together on a digital animation project in Edinburgh. Picture: Tom Finnie

BT will work the Digital Xtra Fund, which is backed by the Scottish Government, and is calling on other businesses to follow suit.

The fund supports activities aimed at encouraging young people to better understand the rapidly expanding digital technology industry and the employment opportunities available.

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It aims to foster the next generation of digital makers and teach them the skills they need to succeed in the workplaces of the future.

Activities are primarily aimed at young people not previously engaged in digital technologies - especially girls and young women - or areas where there is currently a lack of resources or understanding around digital tech..

The fund was launched in May 2016 by the Scottish Government, in partnership with public and private sector bodies including Skills Development Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and ScotlandIS, to act as a pivot point between the private and public sector in order to more efficiently support digital skills activities for young people and help communicate career pathways. It was spun out as an independent charity in March 2017.

Minister for further education Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “The Digital Xtra Fund is a new and innovative approach bringing the public and private sector together in a coordinated way to support digital skills for young people.

“It is critical that industry also gets behind this joined up approach and supports the Digital Xtra Fund to ensure every young person in Scotland has the opportunity to understand and create with digital technologies, as well as appreciate the future opportunities these skills will provide. Only through partnership and collaboration can we effectively increase the quantity, and importantly the quality, of digitally creative experiences for all young people.”

Brendan Dick, director of BT Scotland, said: “We recognise the importance of a joined-up approach within industry to address the digital skills gap and the role the Digital Xtra Fund plays in coordinating this. It needs the support and financial backing of industry in order for it to have maximum impact and reach as many young people as possible. This is a real opportunity for Scotland’s companies to come together and be part of the solution to the digital skills gap.”

Support of companies like BT will ensure the fund’s sustainability. Other firms have also signed up, including Be Positive and Edge Testing.

Kraig Brown, development manager at the Digital Xtra Fund, said: “Speaking with companies across various sectors, I often hear, ‘Yes, digital skills are hugely important in our sector, but what can we do with limited time and resources’. This unfortunately leads to peaks and troughs in support and varying levels of activity provision across the country.

“I encourage any business that understands the importance of digital skills for young people and the value of a coordinated approach to partner with the Fund.”

Last year the fund supported 22 projects across Scotland, engaging 15,000 young people. Applications for the most recent funding round, the first as an independent charity, closed on 1 September.

Digital Xtra Fund is now establishing a 2018/19 funding round and is looking partner with like-minded individuals and businesses who are also keen to increase the availability of extracurricular computing activities for young people.