Digdata and BT inspire future data scientists

Educational initiative Digdata partners with BT on a programme that seeks to encourage young people to consider careers in data science

Digdata and BT have combined forces to teach young people what is involved in a data career as part of an ongoing project that aims to develop young people’s data skills and encourage them to pursue careers in data science.

The educational initiative and BT worked together to run a series of workshops that gave children the opportunity to solve real-world business problems using real data in the hope this would encourage them to consider data careers in the future.

Lauren Kahn, responsible tech and human rights director at BT, said: “BT has a long history of inspiring young people into exciting careers and providing practical support to help them achieve their goals. Now, more than ever, we are committed to helping build a more diverse digital talent pipeline for the UK.

“There are many intersections where we make a difference – with young people still in school, at uni and those about to enter the workforce. Digdata helps us reach young people of different ages across the UK to excite and inspire them about careers in digital and data.”   

The UK is currently suffering from a digital skills gap, resulting in companies competing to hire talent from a small pool of skilled workers.

While there is an ongoing focus on giving young people skills and encouraging them into tech roles, there are ongoing issues that prevent many from choosing science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) paths, or lead to skills mismatches where graduates still don’t have the skills that organisations need.

The Digdata programme, which now has over 300 participating schools, has been working with partners over the past year to give young people insight into how data might be used in solving business problems. It is also trying to change some of the misconceptions people have about STEM careers, the types of people who work in them and the skills needed to be part of the sector, to encourage more children to consider data careers in the future.

For each of Digdata’s partnered challenges, there are different levels to suit a participant’s school year – First Step for years 7 to 9 at secondary school, Next Step for years 10 to 13 at secondary school or sixth form, and Step Up for university students.

BT’s First Step challenge asked young people to use data provided by BT – such as available devices, apps, battery life, video quality, sound quality, ease of use, stable connection and speed – and their own life experiences to answer the question: How can you stay better connected with your friends?

At Next Step level, participants were asked to pretend there’s a storm on the way, while everyone in a household is online on a Friday night using various streaming services, and answer the question: Where should BT’s Openreach engineers be stationed and what issues should they address first?

Finally, the Step Up challenge asked students to help BT create a platform for data analytics to help the firm better understand how and when to offer services to customers at different periods throughout their lifetime.

Rachel Keane, chief data inspirer from Digdata creator the Data Inspiration Group, said providing the students with an accessible way to understand how data plays into their day-to-day lives by presenting them with a real-world challenge makes the experience more fun, as well as highlighting the different routes into data careers.

“We wanted to make [what is] essentially an assessment a little bit more fun with a tangible kind of problem,” she said.

Students can take part as part of classroom learning or individually to gain certificates, and for the companies involved, Keane says it’s akin to offering “virtual work experience”.

Many of the students who took part at every level gave testimonials about their participation in the BT career challenges, saying they enjoyed taking part, were able to use “analysing skills”, and found the experience “interesting” and “informative”.

A parent of one student who completed the BT First Step challenge said: “It was a fabulous way to gain virtual work experience and had him thinking outside the box. It’s helped him consider a career path that he’s never thought about before, as the skills required for a career in data are so numerous.”

To further emphasise the various of paths into a data career, as well as the use of different skillsets such as soft skills, the programme also offers career panels where employees talk about what is involved in their roles.

Keane said this served to highlight that there are many ways to start a career a career in data and how the different pathways and skills picked up along the way contribute to lots of different roles.

Digdata has previously partnered with Facebook, Capital One and location planning specialist CACI to deliver similar challenges.  

While digital skills are growing in importance as technology adoption continues to grow, teachers are struggling to teach technology on its own or as part of other subjects. This concerns Keane, who pointed out that data is relevant to several subjects across the curriculum.

“That’s a worry, because then we don’t have people on the ground who can educate about these types of careers,” she said.

To increase support in delivering data teaching, CACI is developing a free resource with slides and videos to help teachers understand how to work data into the curriculum in a relevant way. It will also help parents to consider data science as a possible future career for their children. The resource will be released later in 2022.

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