I’ve just got home from the first get together of Chalk Eastbourne, a community of like minded people and businesses in our town.
There was a lot of enthusiasm and ideas in the room. It reminds me of how I felt when my family first moved here (11 years ago next week). Our town is special, and has so much potential.
The phrase “digital strategy” was mentioned more than once. At TechResort we’ve been thinking about this for a while. We need a short and actionable strategy where we’re always trying out small things and learning.
The challenges of a seaside town
The biggest problems talked about tonight were recruitment, and the perception of Eastbourne.
Our digital businesses are growing, and they’re finding it increasingly difficult to hire the right people. Then there’s the tired image of Eastbourne often seen in the national press, written by journalists who’ve never been here.
Like many seaside towns, Eastbourne’s economy is heavily reliant on its tourism and retail industries. Many jobs are low paid, and short term. A vast number of locals are digitally excluded.
The upside is a growing number of local digital businesses, offering well paid jobs. A few years ago we were named as a “Creative Cluster” by Nesta, but few know it.
As our industry grows, we need to share the proceeds as equally as possible. This can’t be about pricing local people out of their town, which has happened in many other places. TechResort challenges this by offering free or affordable courses, and there’s much more we can do together.
The start of a plan
So how do we turn this around? Not with a single blog post, of course! I’ll be blogging about this a lot more, and hope there’s food for thought here. We really need to get together, agree a good place to start and get going.
Students, schools, colleges, employers, recruitment, technologies and market forces interact in complicated ways, and they’re changing all the time. So we’re not going to solve this by booking a conference room, and writing a detailed plan for years to come.
Rather, we need to work in an agile way. Identify a few things that we’d like to influence, do some quick research and try a small project or two. Then look at what we changed, what we learned, and go again.
This approach will help people today. They don’t have to wait until ‘the strategy is done’ before seeing the benefit. As an example, our nearest secondary school has 150 students in year 11. Multiply that by the number of schools in town, and it’s clear we’re missing the opportunity to help thousands of young people.
Plus we need to show there’s momentum. We can’t have another talking shop. We need to make a genuine difference now, even if it’s small to start with. If there’s real change on offer, students and employers will be more likely to get on board.
Widening access to our industry
Young people and returning adults need to know that the local digital industry offers a wide variety of rewarding and creative careers. Right now, many don’t even know there are local digital companies. Others have outdated ideas about what we do – it’s only about coding, cabling or running an IT helpdesk. These skills are badly needed, but there’s so much more to our industry.
I’m an Architecture graduate, and run major digital transformation programmes. I spend most of my time thinking about the people that use the things we build, how to better satisfy their needs, and how we can collaborate with others. In my day job, I work with content designers, interaction designers, user researchers, data analysts, software developers and more disciplines besides. We need to demonstrate a much broader view of our work.
Offer more opportunities to learn
TechResort has delivered most of the following projects at a small scale, and they’re ready to scale up. They’re worth talking about as a place to start:
- launch a few more digital skills clubs in local schools. Start early, with 10 year olds and let them explore, fixing problems for themselves. It’ll help them become self starters in later life, which is essential for them to stay ahead of future changes in our industry
- run digital skills holiday clubs (see photos of past clubs we’ve helped to run)
- provide drop in sessions for teens so they can access better kit and support (our Teens sessions are restarting soon)
- offer real world projects for older students to get their teeth into. Better if there’s a genuine need, a real client, and a focus on group working. Budding coders need to work with interaction designers, writers, project managers. The closer we can get to real life working the better. If we get this right, it’ll tie up nicely with T-Levels and higher and degree apprenticeships
- investigate whether it’s worth launching an online community for local students and employers. Could we run a Discord server, for example? What would be on it? Would anyone turn up?
Give a clear picture of the local industry
We’ve also made a start on some of the ideas below, and would like to work with other organisations to do more:
- encourage young and diverse employees to give a careers talk in a school, and sign up ourselves
- help schools careers teachers update their knowledge of our industry, and work with them to identify students who might be interested
- run a couple of great digital careers events every year for all local schools (the Big Futures Show and the Booksy events are making big strides here)
- is it worth making an online directory of local digital companies, with a jobs board? We made a map years ago, and ran jobs on this site (was delighted to hear tonight that it led to a hire). Perhaps this could be a real world project we give to a group of students?
- should we have a public show and tell with our best stuff once a quarter, and invite students to attend? We’re all doing some pretty great projects between us, and we never talk about them. Perhaps our students could show their work too? Maybe some of this could turn into great TikTok content? (OK, maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself!)
With everything listed above, it’s essential we encourage girls and non-binary pupils, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+, neurodiverse, disabled and introverted students to be fully involved. Our industry needs to be more diverse, and we’ll all see the benefit.
Once we’ve tried some of these projects, and we’re working together in a joined up way, we’ll be in a much better position to know what to do next.
More thoughts to come
It’s late, and I’m out of steam now. There’s so much more to cover, for example tackling digital exclusion, helping local digital businesseses to grow, and creating a making culture in our town. We’ll write more soon.