OPINION - Cuts will ensure that we get used to unfilled digital jobs

Funding cuts will hit the digital economy
Funding cuts will hit the digital economy

After the Derry Journal revealed that Allstate was currently seeking to fill 60 jobs in the digital sector. John Peto, of the Nerve Centre, argues that this is a situation that will keep occurring unless threatened funding cuts are stopped

It is impossible to read of the ‘major skills gap’ in the digital sector that currently sees 60 jobs unfilled in Derry without looking too at the proposed cuts coming from Stormont.

The Digital Sector is the future of our economy, not just in Derry but across these islands. Research in Britain tells us that there is a requirement for 750,000 new digital jobs in the UK by the end of 2017, so these 60 jobs are just a fraction of the opportunity that is there for all of us to bring high quality, rewarding employment to the City.

But that opportunity hangs in the balance. The Digital Economy requires digital skills to support it. These new workers need to understand how digital products are made and developed and need to be educated in an environment where technology is embraced and embedded into the fabric of all learning – not just as consumers but as creators.

If they are to be employed in the Digital Economy, our young people need to learn how to use computers and digital tools to actually make things, whether as coders, as digital fabricators or as content producers.

Skills in Coding, 3d design, and digital content are the economic bedrock, not just of the future but increasingly of today.

These skills, the kind of digital literacy that gives people the knowledge and confidence to use these new tools, have to be learned and supported at an early age as part of a pipeline that begins in the home, grows through school and the wider community and leads into Further and Higher Education - delivering skilled workers into the economy at each level.

In recent years Derry and Northern Ireland has made huge strides in this area. The work of the Nerve Centre and the Creative Learning Centres in developing skills and knowledge for teachers and young people around new technologies has been recognized internationally. In the last year alone over 5000 teachers received impartial training and advice around embedding digital learning within their classrooms and over 8,000 young people were directly trained by us in schools and communities.

This training is not just about film and music making, but involves using 3d Printers to teach History and Biology, Computer Coding to make Maths based games and supporting iPads and mobile devices as tools for real creative learning across the curriculum.

These are precisely the skills that today’s employers require from their staff. By inspiring both teachers and young people and making technology easy to use and understand for all users, this work has begun to make real inroads into schools and communities locally, and across Northern Ireland as a whole.

World leading partners such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Rhode Island School of Design have come to the City to look at this work and share their learning with local schools in the last two years, and the techniques that we have pioneered here are now being rolled out across the UK and inspiring others around the world.

At the local level, we are now working closely with colleagues at the North West Regional College and Magee to ensure that this Skills Pipeline is in place locally to build on the digital learning that our excellent schools are delivering.

This work has taken a decade to develop and establish and the rewards are now becoming apparent as education and the digital economy begin to match up.

We are not completely there yet, but Northern Ireland really is ahead of the pack in terms of digital education.

To cut the funding for this work by 50%, as is proposed by the draft DCAL budget, would be catastrophic to this progress and have an immediate impact on our economy, locally and regionally. The skills shortage is being felt today, as Allstate (and others) can testify, and any stepping back of digital education programmes will be rapidly felt.

Yes, budgets are under more pressure than ever before, but cutting a service that actually saves schools money, delivers globally recognised excellence and is focused around developing the future skills that employers like Allstate are crying out for, is economic madness.

The income tax revenue from the 60 unfilled jobs that Allstate are struggling to find talent for would pay for the shortfall in the proposed DCAL budget for this work within two years, and there are 750,000 more of those jobs required by the end of 2017.

The short term saving of this proposed DCAL cut, in addition to those deep cuts affecting Schools, Colleges and University budgets, will be massively outweighed by the medium and long-term benefits to our economy.

Our young people are our future. It is tomorrow’s taxpayers who will fund the NHS, Schools and the State. If we are unable to give them the skills to prosper in the future economy then we will all suffer the consequence. To inflict cuts to this work is short-sighted in the extreme, and a few hundred thousand pounds saved today will cost the Executive much, much more money tomorrow.

If we can’t provide the workforce then the employers simply wont come here. Cut funding to digital education programmes of organisations like the Nerve Centre, the Creative Learning Centres and CultureTECH and you reduce the opportunity for our whole economy – across the region, but particularly here in Derry where we are already starting at an economic disadvantage.

Allstate’s 60 unfilled Digital jobs in Derry may be something that we just have to get used to, unless we speak out now to do something about it. To join the campaign against cuts to the Nerve Centre visit www.

nervecentre.org to fill in the online submission to DCAL or email them direct on budgetconsultation@dcalni.gov.uk.