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Developing a Digital Talent Pool

Written by Laura Appleton, Event Executive at Sopra Steria

Digital Leaders Northern Ireland is hosted by Sopra Steria, the September Salon saw delegates come together to discuss the topic of developing a digital talent pool. The lead discussants were Dr Joanne Stuart from Catalyst inc and Peter Doherty from Belfast Metropolitan College who manages CoderDojo.

Dr Joanne Stuart opened the Salon by discussing the fact that careers in the Knowledge Economy are now amongst the most lucrative, can offer greater job security and a more fulfilling sense of purpose. At present the growth sectors within Northern Ireland include software development, digital media, agri-tech and advanced engineering however these are the sectors where businesses are challenged to find people with the right skills. The misconception amongst many influential stakeholders is that there is a lack of understanding of the different pathways into Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics careers. To address this the NI Science Park has developed Generation Innovation, one of our most exciting programmes specifically engaging with the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators

One of the challenges discussed around the subject of developing a talent pool was that a lot of jobs that will become available within the next ten to twenty years don’t exist already. Therefore the need to develop diverse skills is paramount. This can be done by using existing trends to anticipate where the challenges may arise and bridging this skill gap before it happens. This includes the user experience and not just technical skills. Meaning a fantastic product or concept could be created but if it isn’t user friendly or if people don’t like it, it won’t be used. This highlights the demand for creativity alongside both technical and mathematical talent.

Salon contributors broadened the discussion with the theme of influence. There are a number of pathways already in place for children but key influencers including parents and teachers are manipulating the way children choose which path to take, for example encouraging children to attend University straight from school. The Salon agreed that there is a lot to be said for attending College or carrying out an apprenticeship within the IT industry. As this is the case Colleges need to have a PR strategy for companies to understand what they do in order for sectors to become champions and support the skills and practical experience that can be gained through College courses. By doing this it can create pathways from College to industry rather than University. In the past companies used to look for high level degrees but this has changed over the past 6 years as now more and more companies seek apprentices and skilled experience.

The outcome of this part of the conversation was that Education and Commercial sectors need to work better together to quickly address the future trends.

It seems that parents are influencing children to strive to attend University to study a Law or Medicine degree instead of the Sciences. This could be because they are unaware of the jobs that can be achieved from studying a Science and what job titles in the IT industry mean. Everyone knows what a Barrister is but do they know what a Software Engineer is?

The second lead discussant Peter Doherty explained an overview of CoderDojo to the salon and highlighted that Belfast are one of the largest CoderDojo groups in Europe with a huge majority of the sessions booked up far in advance. They have found that CoderDojo doesn’t only inspire children to learn about coding and programming but also parents. Children under 14 must have an adult accompanying them at the sessions and Peter expressed how great it is to see how enthusiastic the parents are in learning new skills alongside the children. Perhaps this could help with influencing children into the IT sector. A number of teachers have also requested to attend sessions to develop their skills.

The salon concluded with the general view point that education is vital in developing a digital talent pool. The enthusiasm and momentum of what children learn in sessions like those that CoderDojo run needs to continue into the education system. IT jobs need to be spoken about in everyday life to encourage people of all ages to strive to become an IT professional.

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