Digital is increasingly woven into everything we do; from the products we interact with on a daily basis to the services we use. This means organisations need a workforce with technical skills to support our rapidly-growing digital economy. However, according to Tech City UK – the government-backed body focused on accelerating the growth of digital businesses across the UK – despite the surge in digital tech jobs, which reached 1.64 million this year, up to 100,000 remain unfulfilled.
Ada, the National College for Digital Skills, is focused on addressing this skills gap. Based in London, this state-funded, further education college took in its first cohort of 58 students aged 16-19 last year. Now entering its second academic year, the aim is to expand to 2,000 students by 2021, with a specific focus on attracting women and those from low-income households.
Ada is supported by a range of founding partners, one of which is Deloitte. The Deloitte team not only provides input on the curriculum but also sets projects for the students, takes part in the coaching programme, and supports Ada recruitment events. In June 2017 Deloitte and Ada devised an Internet of Things (IoT) based challenge for the sixth form students to help them explore IoT possibilities and develop their project management skills.
“The relevance of smart products that are embedded with sensors and software, like smart meters in our homes, mean that the IoT is appearing all around us. The line between what’s digital and what’s not is blurring even more and we thought that the students may find this theme relevant and interesting to get engaged with on a practical level,” says Jamie Gore, Technology Analyst and Ada Relationship Lead.
The line between what’s digital and what’s not is blurring even more and we thought that the students may find this theme relevant and interesting to get engaged with on a practical level. – Jamie Gore, Technology Analyst, Deloitte
The brief for this three-day challenge was ‘Ada College as a Smart Campus’ and would see students competing in teams to create a product that would help to connect students, teachers and the college using data generated by sensors and software and the IoT.
“We wanted to really challenge them. We didn’t want to give them a closed project. We wanted them to really use their creativity and entrepreneurship to create something really interesting and something they had control over,” comments Gore.
On the hardware side, the tools included: the Raspberry Pi microcomputer; the Amazon Echo Dot – a miniaturised version of the Alexa voice recognition product; and then sensors in the form of radio-frequency identification (RFID) stickers and RFID readers.
On the software side, the students had access to ThingWorx, a development platform from software company PTC that can be used to build IoT dashboards to monitor data from smart, connected products. In the case of this project, through ThingWorx the students could use the RFID reader to record data from the RFID stickers.
Rather than thinking of a whole connected ecosystem of interacting services in a connected campus, for this challenge it was about starting small with one solution that could then be built upon. – Thomas Watling, IoT Innovation Group, Deloitte
“We chose ThingWorx because it is easy to use and because of its applicability in enterprise. We wanted students to use the same tools that big tech companies are using,” says Thomas Watling, from Deloitte’s IoT innovation group.
Additionally, the students had access to PTC’s recently launched online IoT training platform called IoT University. Here the students or, indeed anybody, can register for free and start learning about the IoT and ThingWorx through interactive and easy-to-follow tutorials that are delivered by industry experts. “Having access to these tutorials, which I think they really enjoyed, opened their eyes to new things that you can achieve with software,” comments Gore.
But the technical work was only one aspect of the challenge as the panel of judges, which included representatives from Ada College, Deloitte and PTC, would be judging the teams against four evenly weighted categories. These included identification of the problem, project management, technical work and quality of the pitch.
“When good ideas come out, they need to be clearly explained – in particular the problem that they solve, even more so than the technical solution itself. It was part of the challenge for the students to strike the right balance, while having spent three full days working with these exciting exponential technologies,” points out Francois Disch, part of Deloitte Systems Integration and also one of the judges.
For me, as an educator, it’s really important that our students get to see the range of jobs and careers in digital. – Tina Götschi, Head of Computing, Ada College
The winning team had created a solution to address the problem teachers face in trying to locate a specific student without having to physically find them. Using a unique student card with an RFID sticker, the student could tap against an RFID reader device located outside each classroom which would associate that student as being in or signed out.
“Rather than thinking of a whole connected ecosystem of interacting services in a connected campus, for this challenge it was about starting small with one solution that could then be built upon. I think that was why the winning team won because they achieved something technical but pitched it really well and, more so, they had thought about this connectivity,” comments Watling.
Although the challenge is now over, the collaboration with PTC is only just beginning as Tina Götschi, Head of Computing at Ada, is eager for the students to utilise ThingWorx within the curriculum itself. “For us, this is exciting and a start of a potentially great partnership that will get our students into something that is very cutting edge,” she says.
Another advantage of its new relationship with PTC is the other potential doors it opens to the College. For instance, PTC is a Tier One Partner at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), which carries out world-leading research into advanced manufacturing processes and materials. Within the AMRC campus is AMRC Factory 2050 dedicated to demonstrating the implementation and use of advanced manufacturing techniques.
“PTC has links to the AMRC and through this partnership we could arrange a visit with our students. For me, as an educator, it’s really important that our students get to see the range of jobs and careers in digital. Many colleges would not have these opportunities, but through our partnerships, we can show them a much wider view and give them many more options for potential futures that suit them,” concludes Götschi.