Programme Lead Gary Futcher outlines a recent Real Ideas led pilot project exploring digital engagement for schools.

If the future’s digital then it seems we have a problem.

Because, as it stands, the digital skills gap is too wide and the talent pipeline for digital specialists is just too narrow. It’s something recognised by the government, industry and many others who are keen find ways to narrow the gap and widen and diversify the pipeline.

With this in mind, across 2021 Real Ideas led the KS3 Digital Engagement Pilot on behalf of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership’s Digital Skills Partnership. Working with a group of Devon, Somerset and Plymouth secondary schools the pilot delivered cross-curricular digital skills and careers activity to 11-13 year old students. It explored whether access to a wide range of digital careers content and activities would encourage more of them to think about the importance of digital skills and consider choosing digital or computing focused GCSEs or vocational courses.

Despite the challenge of Covid, the pilot demonstrated that it is definitely possible to raise awareness of digital skills and careers and stimulate positive engagement in some very concrete, clear and simple ways. Creating videos highlighting south-west digital businesses helped students (and teachers) realise digital isn’t something happening in the bright lights somewhere else, workplace tours gave them a genuine insight into the varied worlds of digital work around them, and spotlights on young employees helped link their studies to real, tangible futures. And providing bite-sized digital activities as well as resources and links for busy teachers all helped to weave digital into day-to-day classroom life.

The upshot was a clear increase in student (and teacher) knowledge of digital skills, jobs and careers as well as an overall increase in how important students felt digital skills, knowledge and ability are for their future. All of which provides a positive and useful message for those in the business of digital pipeline widening and gap narrowing.

The full outline of the pilot, the final evaluation and all the video content can now be found on the recently launched Heart of the South West Skills Launchpad page here.