Inspiring The Disruptors Of Tomorrow

How can businesses address the widening talent gap in tech?

As enterprises inevitably enter the digital age, employment requirements are changing. Unfortunately, the workforce often seems to be playing a game of catch up. The tech talent gap is hardly breaking news, last year KPMG’s annual CIO survey found that 65 per cent of technology leaders faced difficulties when hiring employees with relevant skills. Fortunately, some businesses and organisations are looking to address this situation. D/SRUPTION recently met  Anita Chandraker, Head of Digital at PA Consulting Group who is leading a programme to address the situation.

InsPI’ring students
In 2012, PA Consulting launched their annual Raspberry Pi Competition for primary schools, secondary schools, and sixth form and college students. Using the low cost, compact computer Raspberry Pi, students go head to head in their categories to create innovative solutions based on yearly themes. The aim, says PA Consulting’s head of digital Anita Chandraker, is to foster interest and passion in tech. As the talent gap widens, this is becoming even more important. “We recognise that for all organisations, whether they’re public sector or private sector, the ability to embrace the opportunities that technology provides is absolutely critical. We see, every day, that we can’t find enough talent with the right skills – this is a supply problem.”

The event is hosted and compered by Maggie Philbin, who presented the science programme Tomorrow’s World, and judged by a panel of industry experts. This year’s competition will focus on the theme of sustainability, which was actually chosen by the schools themselves.

“We polled schools and offered a few different options. We want it to be simple enough to be a purpose that young people can relate to. Last year the theme was helping people to lead healthier lives. For example, some children were inspired by their grandparents who were living on their own. It was very relevant to them.”

Last year, the winning entrants created a wearable device that helps deafblind people identify visitors, a monitoring tool for carers of the elderly, and a learning game designed to support those with Attention Deficit Disorders and Dyslexia. But what exactly do the judges look for in their winning candidates?

“We look for the clarity of the idea, and how relevant is it as a concept. We look at how they have worked as a team to deliver the outcome, as well as the quality of technical solution. Sometimes it’s also about the passion, determination and the excitement that they show for what they’ve done.”

Relevant ideas for real world problems
So, what do the teams get out of it? Competition winners are awarded £1,000, but Anita says it’s not just about entering the competition and getting to the final. Teams can access mentors and a range of materials through a dedicated portal, offering invaluable support to teachers with limited resources. It’s also about delivering a concept that could really make a difference to people’s lives.

“We get the teams to appear before the judges so they get to present to people like Rory Cellan-Jones from the BBC,” says Anita. “We’ve picked up that some of them have a real relevance to adult social care, and we got the children back in the summer to do a Dragon’s Den style presentation to people in that sector. That shows that they can take their ideas further than just building something for the competition.”

At the same time, this helps young people to think differently about technology. “We’ve actually had comments back from some of the kids to say, ‘Well this has been great fun because I didn’t have to do the technology bit, but I could still contribute and what I did was useful and valuable.’ So, part of it is the tech skills, but it’s also the awareness and excitement about what technology offers in all its different guises.” This is equally important in terms of diversity. According to Anita, teams are put forward from a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives, and are generally very mixed in terms of gender.

A communal effort
PA Consulting aren’t the only ones encouraging students to get their teeth into tech. In March 2018, StudentHack will hold a hackathon for students over the age of 18. The event is designed for coding beginners, offering older students the opportunity to test out their skills. At the primary and secondary level, the Tech Partnership has launched the My Tech Future competition. Primary school students were asked to consider how they might use tech in their future job roles, while secondary school entrants were challenged to think about how tech can enhance musical experiences.

“I think there are many such initiatives that do things to encourage young people to engage,” says Anita. “I guess what we are doing aligns closely with what PA stands for – we are passionate about innovation and entrepreneurship, and not technology for technology’s sake. It’s about the power of the technology to drive change. Looking at problems from the outside in and seeing technology as the answer rather than just ‘something that you do’ is very important.”

Creating events and competitions for young people could be instrumental in encouraging talent and diversity in the technological community. Initiatives like PA’s Raspberry Pi Competition demonstrate that, contrary to popular belief, anybody can get involved in technology. Transforming the way that younger generations value their own skills will place them in better stead to become the innovators and entrepreneurs of tomorrow, and continue to fuel topical, relatable projects that serve a purpose in the wider world. “Hopefully,” says Anita, “We’ll touch the lives of a number of students coming through this in a meaningful way that means they’re inspired to go on and pursue this as a career.”

If you would like to learn more about the Raspberry Pi Competition, visit http://www.paconsulting.com/events/raspberry-pi-competition/. The closing date for applicants is 5th March, 2018.