Teaching the IT professionals of tomorrow to close digital skills gap

With digital literacy becoming a basic requirement for an ever growing number of businesses, the need to equip young Scots with the right skills for the future has never been greater.

Picture; Ian Georgeson
Picture; Ian Georgeson
Picture; Ian Georgeson

Industry leaders such as Google and Microsoft have regularly highlighted the need to bridge the growing “digital skills gap” to ensure more school leavers can win jobs in the booming tech sector.

More than 84,000 people are employed in jobs such as software development, data, digital agency, telecoms, cloud and ICT services roles across the country and demand for digital skillsets will increase as the world becomes ever more connected.

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It’s with that in mind that Digital Xtra, a Scottish Government-backed funding programme for extracurricular computing projects, was launched in May.

Successful bids were awarded a share of a £250,000 pot in August, ranging from programming classes taught at local libraries to a forensic investigations scheme.

Now new applications are being invited for an additional £150,000 up for grabs.

Eligible organisations can bid for grants from £1,500 to a maximum £25,000 per project to support computing science and digital skills extracurricular activities for 2016/17.

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

Higher education minister Shirley-Anne Somerville 
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.”

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Career opportunities in the tech sector are significant with up to 11,000 job opportunities available in Scotland annually.

It is anticipated that industry, employers and other funders will contribute 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, schools project lead at ScotlandIS, said: “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 availability and sustainability, as well as showing how they will reach previously underrepresented groups.

The deadline for submissions is noon on Friday, 4 November. Application details can be found on the Public Contracts Scotland website.