NI Digital Awareness Week launches to encourage young people into technology

  • Today (18 October) marks the first day of Northern Ireland’s Digital Awareness Week. 

    The initiative is aimed at encouraging more young people across Northern Ireland to pursue a career in digital technologies and to raise awareness within schools of the skills that are needed.

    NI Digital Awareness Week, which is led by locally based, global smart software provider Civica and partners across industry and education, will run from 18-22 October. The week will feature over 20 virtual talks, panel discussions and live demos from organisations including Microsoft, BT, IBM, NI-based software consultancy Instil, Ulster University, Queen’s University Belfast and local startups SustainIQ and Kinsetsu. 

    Mark Owens Managing Director at Civica NI says he wanted to get involved with Digital Awareness Week as over the last year and half, his company, along with many other tech companies in Northern Ireland, realised there is a real danger of having a skills shortage within the tech sector. 

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    Mark explains that there are a number of reasons that he believes this is happening. Firstly, there is not enough education about technology in primary schools and there is no specific curriculum to look at IT or software, so by the time children are in post primary education they’re not familiar with the sector. 

    Mark then explains that the problems continue into secondary education as “computer science and IT aren’t mandatory subjects even though it’s something we use everyday. So by the time children pick their GCSEs technology ICT and computer science isn't at the forefront of what they want to choose.”

    Another big hurdle is that 50% of students' careers are shaped and advised by their parents, so if parents are not informed on the opportunities within the sector their children will be more likely to pursue more traditional careers.

    Mark says the result of all of this is that there are “only a very small number of students between 11-18 choosing ICT or computer science for GCSE or A level.”

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    Out of the 28,000 A level students in Northern Ireland just 1% choose computer science.

    The knock on effect of this is that Queens and Ulster University are seeing applicants to these subjects decrease.

    Mark says he believes this is happening as: “Student’s do not get told about the industry, about my business or anything outside of coding. There are hundreds of other tech careers. There's AI, cloud IOT, all these things are used day in and day out in our working life and yet somebody has to build them.”

    Mark believes the answer to this growing issue is “first and foremost, awareness.” He explains that initiatives such as Digital Awarenesss week are needed to show people that the technology sector “is probably the most buoyant and has the most potential to stimulate the economy here in Northern Ireland, the industry is exciting, it is pretty guaranteed to give you a job and we pay 20-30% more than other industries because the demand is there.”

    Digital Awareness Week will give pupils at Key Stage 3,4 & 5 (11-18 years old) a chance to try their hand at coding and hear from experts in the worlds of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Cybersecurity and emerging technologies.

    Speaking at the launch of Digital Awareness Week, Education Minister Michelle McIlveen, said: “Events like this actually show the pathways for young people and so much of what we do on an everyday basis has now got an IT base. It’s about encouraging young people to get involved in this when they can actually see a career at the end of it.”

    About the author

    Aoife is a Sync NI writer with a previous background working in print, online and broadcast media. She has a keen interest in all things tech related. To connect with Aoife feel free to send her an email or connect on LinkedIn.

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