College students help digital policy

Two Oldham College IT students are part of a new Young Digital TaskForce, initiated by Ed Miliband, to help shape the UK’s digital future

Thomas Miller, aged 18 and Holly King, aged 19, who are in their first and second years respectively of the College’s IT Career Academy,* attended an initial workshop at Google’s offices in London last month. Along with their tutor, Bob Dugdill, a Curriculum leader in Digital Technology they joined students and tutors from only eight other educational institutions across the UK.

Other attendees included Google staff and tech entrepreneurs who were also invited by Maggie Philbin. A broadcaster whose credits include Tomorrow’s World and Bang Goes the Theory, Maggie was awarded the degree Honorary Doctor of Technology by De Montfort University for services to the world of science and technology.

Maggie Philbin said: “It is a cruel irony that the most tech-savvy generation of digital consumers are being left behind when it comes to jobs in the growing digital economy. This is talent we can ill-afford to waste. The Young Digital TaskForce will focus on influencing all parties to take a new approach to careers information for young people across the UK. The views of young people are crucial to finding a solution to the technology and digital skills gap.” 

In the morning, students were tasked with feeding back on perceptions around technical entrepreneurs and what their priorities would be if they could build a digital school from scratch. Over lunch the students interviewed entrepreneurs and people from industry, finding out why and how they got into IT, and what they really thought about working in the sector, before feeding back to everyone in front of a video camera. Several ideas were shared but common themes included making the subject more relevant, improving links with industry and keeping up-to-date as IT changes so quickly. 

Then they were whisked through London in a convoy of black cabs, ‘Apprentice style’, to Westminster Cabinet offices for a session with Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour party. Ed invited questions, took on board comments and was very appreciative of the student’s involvement in this project.

Oldham College tutor Bob Dugdill said: “It was a great opportunity and a privilege for our students to have direct dialogue with Ed and be involved in influencing political policy.  They felt like they were being taken seriously on an issue which we can help to address.” 

Next year Oldham College is opening the UK’s first ever Career College which will specialise in skills for digital and creative industries, combining academic knowledge with practical industry experience and understanding for its students.  The first of its kind in the country, it aims to develop the next generation of skilled people who can make anything possible through software, design, technology and creativity. 

The 18 members of the steering group for the Young Digital TaskForce were drawn from across the UK. Sponsored by Google and Samsung The Young Digital TaskForce is working to help young people, their parents and teachers better understand the opportunities and skills needed in contemporary industries. They provide a young person’s perspective on the most effective way to change perceptions, share learning and make a difference to the skills gap. Next steps of the Young Digital TaskForce include virtual meetings online using Skype to enhance further collaboration and debate between the 18 organisations involved.