We might use them every day of our working lives, but how many people have actually seen inside a computer? And could building a laptop get people more excited about IT?
This was the thought-provoking concept behind a session Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) ran as part of the first-ever Halifax Digital Festival – in partnership with festival sponsor Lloyds Banking Group.
Called ‘Build your own lappy’, the session held at Halifax Central Library was one of three run by TCS during the festival and part of a series of collaborations with Lloyds aimed at helping to close the UK’s digital skills gap.
Bridging the gap
Demand for digital skills is growing, with the UK government saying they’re becoming “near-universal” requirements for employment and essential for more than 80% of online job vacancies.
But despite these skills playing a crucial role in the UK economy, around half of UK employers are struggling to attract talent with the right IT background.
Halifax Digital Festival was organized by local companies to highlight the work in digital technology happening in the area – and attract local residents and students to explore a career in the industry.
TCS led a hands-on session called ‘What makes a laptop work?’. The adults and young people taking part learned about key components, took apart and rebuilt a device, and found out about common issues and upgrades.
It really fired up people’s imaginations, says Sudhanshu Sharma, Sales & Solutions Consultant, Enterprise Agility, Consulting & Service Integration (C&SI), TCS.
“Everyone who came was very excited and wanted to get involved with all the small pieces,” he says. “We all work on IT systems, but we might not know how to change the RAM or the power supply.”
There were challenges for more experienced coders too, with TCS running a workshop focused on building an app about the festival.
“We also delivered the code to them, so they could make changes on their mobile phone at home afterwards,” says Sharma, explaining it was powered by the open-source software GitHub, and available to attendees for 90 days.
For Halifax Central Library, the event brought more people in to use its existing tech facilities. And there were requests for similar sessions in future.
“We received amazing feedback about the sessions; the excitement on the day was palpable,” says Gillian Rice, Young People’s Library Officer, Calderdale Libraries. Since most people use laptops every day, she adds, it was fascinating to see one deconstructed before their eyes.
At young people’s centre Orange Box, TCS held a session specifically for year five and six students – in which, working in small teams, they learned the basics of designing and building a computer game.
The children were enthusiastic about the task and proud to showcase their work after the session, says Sharma.
“It has kick-started their interest in technology. It’s not a teacher telling them it’s something they have to learn about. We’ve shown them that people actually do this for a job – and they were really excited about that.”
Full STEM ahead
Across the Pennines in Manchester, TCS volunteers also helped Lloyds Banking Group to demystify DevOps at a careers event for graduates and the company’s internal staff at Lloyds’ flagship branch.
The Engineering Open Day was designed to inform non-engineering colleagues about career paths in technology and give them a taste of what it’s like to work in software engineering.
Attendees circulated various engineering ‘speed dating’ tables at which industry representatives gave them insights on DevOps, human-centred design, IT infrastructure, software engineering and quality engineering.
This involvement of industry was an important element of providing the students with a valuable third-party perspective, says Sara Milne, Engineering Lead, Capability & Culture, Group Transformation at Lloyds Banking Group.
“It was great to have colleagues from TCS join us on the day and speak to the attendees, helping answer their questions and giving a view on software engineering roles.”
The Lloyds branch has been reimagined into a community technology hub, and crucially, as a digital skills training academy. The company has now pledged to provide digital skills training for 1.8 million individuals, SMEs and charities across the UK by 2020. The academy is supported by Manchester Metropolitan University, Google, Skillsoft and Jobcentre Plus.
Collaboration was the key to achieving the goal of spreading digital skills, as Brian Simpson, Lloyds Banking Group’s Engineering Capability & Culture Senior Lead, explains.
“Halifax Digital Festival was organized by a number of companies working in the town, with the objective of highlighting the great work in digital technology that happens in the area, and helping local residents explore digital careers and skills,” he says.
“Support for Lloyds with its community activities is a valuable aspect of our partnership with TCS. In particular, I’m really impressed with their commitment to helping young people learn more about technology.”
Indeed, among the TCS team, it was the combined efforts of colleagues that led to the success of the day. “We have a large team working in partnership with Lloyds Banking Group in Halifax, Copley and Leeds, so it was fantastic to learn Halifax was going to host its own digital festival,” says Clare Metcalfe, Business Engagement Manager at TCS. “As soon as we heard about it, we knew we had to lend our support.
“I am passionate about all things STEM and participate in TCS’ wider work in inspiring the next generation to consider careers in IT and technology. The Halifax Digital Festival was one more excellent opportunity to engage with schoolchildren and inspire young minds with the possibilities of digital.”