Blog: TechResort’s plan to fix digital skills

The government is taking a fresh look at digital skills, and here’s what we think they should invest in

The ‘Local Skills Improvement Plan’ (LSIP) is the government’s latest attempt to make digital skills development satisfy employer needs. Here’s a quote from the LSIP prospectus.

“LSIPs will be created by employers and providers, with employers setting out a credible and evidence-based assessment of their skills needs, to which providers will be empowered to respond. The plans will help ensure provision is more responsive to emerging and changing skills needs and being locally driven, can be tailored to the challenges and opportunities most relevant to the area.”

An LSIP pilot project is being led by the Sussex Chamber of Commerce, and TechResort was invited to take part. We’ve been involved in similar projects which came to nothing, so were quite sceptical at first. But having fed into this work, it feels a bit different this time. The local LSIP researchers are experts in this field, and we’ve attended a few good sessions. We’re crossing our fingers that the government will listen and act.

What we’ve said

TechResort has been sharing digital skills for almost 10 years, so we’ve a lot of real life learning to call on. There’s a lot to fix though, so the challenge is where to start. Here’s what we’re thinking now, and we’ll update this post as we learn more.

Create a system that can learn

We believe the biggest challenge is being able to quickly respond to changing technology and ideas. ‘Fixing’ digital skills now might be OK for a few months or years, but the world is moving on. Today’s well conceived plan will soon be out of date.

The digital skills system needs to be quick to adapt to changing needs. It needs to be agile, in the same way most software is built these days. So let’s have a fully funded permanent team dedicated to digital skills development. It needs to work in the open and be able to move swiftly – sifting evidence, piloting ideas, and learning by doing.

Our government already knows how to do this. It’s how GOV.UK and countless other digital services are kept up to date.

Next, the hard part: give schools and colleges increased time, budgets and freedoms so they can quickly introduce the best ideas and techniques emerging from the digital skills team. Better still, give them time to try things themselves, with more opportunities to collaborate with other schools.

TechResort has never run a school or an FE college, but we’ve worked with quite a few. We imagine all of this is easier said than done. We’ve seen first hand that there’s not enough money or hours in the day. But it still would be good to talk about this, and try something.

Provide easy to access short courses

We understand that this need has emerged in the LSIP research, and it’s urgent. TechResort has received very similar requests from employers, and we intend to do some more work on this.

The challenge for small organisations like ours is finding out precisely what courses are needed. It takes a long time to canvass employers, particularly when they’re busy trying to pay the bills and recover from Covid. Then there’s the overhead of starting a course to consider, and the risk that it’s undersubscribed. We imagine that FE colleges face similar issues, just at a larger scale.

Despite this, there’s some experimenting we can do. If you’re a local employer with a digital skills gap, please get in touch. We’ll be posting about this subject again.

Introduce young people to digital skills early, and stick with them

This has been part of TechResort’s plan since we founded back in 2013, and there’s three things the LSIP should start with.

Start a digital skills club in every school

We’ve recently done this with year 5 students at Cavendish School, and hope that clubs can be set up for older students too. With 10 year olds, our focus is on problem solving and providing as wide a range of activities as possible. If something isn’t working, we ask students to think about why, rather than immediately fixing it for them.

For our Teens sessions, we encourage students to bring their own work and we provide the know-how as and when they need it. We’ve been trying to show students how to learn, and encourage them to be ready to do this all their lives. New technologies and ideas come along all the time, and the best students spot them, and adapt. This needs to be a universal skill.

We’ve found partnering with schools difficult. They’re great and rewarding places to work, but it’s hard to get started. There’s often limited kit or it’s locked down to such an extent that few online resources are accessible.

Teachers are under pressure to focus on the set curriculum, with little time or budget for anything else. Some feel like we’re selling to them (we aren’t), probably because they’re sold to all the time.

Schools need bigger budgets and more freedoms, while teachers need time to pause for breath. Also a medal for their continued dedication and hard work! LSIP needs to address all of the above head on.

Run careers sessions that reflect the whole digital industry

When TechResort is invited to careers sessions in schools, we make a point of talking about all the jobs in the digital industry, not just coding. Also flagging to students in advance that we’ll be doing this – the industry is about design, content, data, user research, running projects, and plenty more besides.

We think it’s making a difference to sessions – more girls attend, along with students from non-IT subjects such as English, Art and Geography. Our plan is to keep on doing this, and track if it makes a difference.

Provide real world projects with experts on hand

Back in 2015 we launched a project called TechMatch which paired talented A-Level students with organisations who needed help. The students were looking for real world experience, and the organisations had digital challenges that needed solving.

Everyone really enjoyed it, and the work was recognised with a SPARK award. Sadly, the project was a one off. We won a small amount of money to run the first year, and haven’t been able to find funding since then. A Sussex wide project would make a huge difference, and we hope that LSIP proposes something similar.

Try something, learn and improve

We’ve tried all of the projects above, and had great successes. The next step would be to run all of them at a larger scale (say the whole of Eastbourne) for a couple of years, keep track of progress and make improvements as we go.

All learnings would be shared openly online, and we’d expect to see other towns and cities around the country joining in. It would be quite something! We hope that LSIP recommends that this be funded.

There’s one thing we’re certain of: TechResort doesn’t have all the answers, and never will because the game is always changing. But we know how to bring people together to try things out, then move forward, making a real world difference to students, employers and the communities of which we’re a part.

Our alumni are now working in fintech, artificial intelligence, and studying on top notch CyberSec university courses. Students still with us are getting great work experience by helping out with projects and client work, such as repurposing donated laptops or setting up hosting for the Digital Inclusion Toolkit.

To fix the digital skills system we need to start such projects now, and be ready to learn and adapt based on what we find. Then, once we have something worth scaling, there needs to be a quick and efficient way of rolling it out.

So, this is what we said to the LSIP researchers. We’re always open to conversations, so please do let us know what you think.

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