As part of Digitober, a celebration of all things digital in Greater Manchester, we answered a few questions set by our friends at GMCA. It was a great chance to look back on all we and our amazing students have achieved…

Please provide an overview of your project and the work you do

Go Digital gives 11-13 year olds the chance to create digital products in teams, just like in industry. Students experience the buzz of working in the digital sector and try out a digital job. We want to inspire them to believe that they could work in this exciting and rewarding world.

Three Greater Manchester digital skills organisations came together to create Go Digital: Hive, Digital Advantage and InnovateHer

The project is part of GMCA’s Digital Talent Pipeline initiative, which is about developing future talent for the industry across all ages.

9000 students from 50 Greater Manchester schools across all boroughs benefited from Go Digital in 2019 – 2020. They had a ‘digital assembly’, showing them that the digital sector needs every type of person: from calm problem-solvers to team-leading extroverts, from tech lovers to creative designers.

1500 students then took part in a 1-day ‘design sprint’ where, in teams, they coded robots and made a video and website to bring them to life as a product.

400 pupils went on to spend 3 days out of school at the Federation in Manchester, forming teams with people from other schools to create an app, website or gadget to help people or solve a real-world problem.

The teacher and student feedback we gathered was extremely positive. Teacher feedback highlighted how engaged the students were and how they thrived by working with industry experts to solve problems. All participants said that they now better understood the digital opportunities open to them, and many told us they would now make subject choices leading to digital careers. 

“I knew I was quite good at tech but I never really considered it because I didn’t know what type of jobs there were – but now I do.”  – Hollingworth Academy student (Rochdale)

“I definitely feel way more confident and we’ve learnt a lot about how women can get into tech.” – Westleigh student (Wigan)

“I think for our students it’s really important to see all kinds of careers that are quite new and our staff don’t necessarily know about.” – Coop Academy teacher (Manchester)

“My favourite part is working with another school because there’s not many where I’m from and so it’s nice to make bonds.” – Smithills student (Bolton)

How does this project  help close the digital divide in Greater Manchester?

To work in digital, it helps to start early. Starting at ages 11-13, before GCSE options are chosen, gives young people an early chance to see the jobs they could do and choose subjects or activities that will help them get there. 

The 50 schools were chosen because their students  had not had the chance to participate in an activity like this before. Over 90% of them were in areas where there is not currently high employment in digital.

50% of participants in the programme were girls, rising to 75% in the final phase because we aim to tackle the starkest problem in the tech industry: the underrepresentation of women.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work in this space and more widely as an organisation?

Go Digital’s face-to-face delivery had to stop in March 2020, as schools closed and people were no longer allowed to gather in groups. We had to flex to online delivery, which luckily we had the skills and resources to do, and a supportive partner in GMCA.

For now we cannot work in schools, as they help students catch up with missed work and restrict external providers. We can gather our own groups of young people again, in a safe environment, but will have to adapt activity and reduce numbers.

All three partners are developing online versions of their existing programmes and expect to deliver remotely to students and schools in the mid to long term.

As for working with tech employers, in the short term there is a pause as we all assess the economic situation. In the long-term, we believe there will be even more need for our work, as Covid-19 has made work and social activity more remote and digital. Companies and organisations providing digital services will need the skilled people to do it.

What are your future plans for digital inclusion?

The need for digital inclusion will only grow as we move online to learn, working, shop, socialise and access services. We are keeping a close eye on where the greatest need is and will adapt our delivery to suit. We are conscious of the digital divide widening and have introduced measures to ensure young people can still access our programmes remotely.

The three Go Digital partners all exist to close the digital divide, in different ways.

InnovateHer focus on girls: “Our vision is to get girls ready for the tech industry, and the industry ready for girls. We equip girls aged 13-16 with the self-belief, confidence and skills to pursue a career in technology, whilst working with digital and tech companies to create inclusive workplaces. During the pandemic we have partnered with the Princes Trust to provide devices and dongles to those students who need them most, to access our remote offer. We have developed a online platform to become an e-learning provider and continue to provide support to schools with their remote learning needs”

Digital Advantage delivers innovative work experiences to young people of all ages and abilities. Our industry-led programmes accelerate technical, creative and business skills to reveal the hidden talents of all our students. “In partnership with The Manchester College, we recently launched our brand-new Digital Inc. supported internship for 16-24-year-old young people with Education Health & Care Plans”

Hive’s area is coding skills, which are in-demand – but not enough talent is coming through to fill all the great jobs available. “We run friendly, hands-on activities, we demystify coding and make it accessible to people underrepresented in the sector such as BAME communities, girls and those from disadvantaged areas. Covid has severely affected sectors like hospitality and retail. We aim to help train and retrain people to work in digital, where new jobs are being created every day.”

What more do you think needs to be done as a digital sector in Greater Manchester to help close the digital divide?

Programmes like Go Digital need to be made more sustainable and permanent, so that all young people can continue to access them. Manchester City Council’s recent audit of digital skills in schools shows that they really see the value in extra-curricular activities like Go Digital, plugging gaps in the curriculum and providing much-needed links to industry.

Other initiatives are needed to target older age groups, to sustain and develop interest and skills between the ages of 14 and 18. As ever, employers, local authorities  and learning providers need to find ways to understand each other better and work together, in these times of challenge and opportunity.

Go Digital Deep Dive Video