Xtra Fund becomes Scotland’s first digital skills charity for young people

The Digital Xtra Fund has become Scotland’s first charity dedicated to support a full range of digital skills initiatives for people aged 16 and under after receiving charitable status from the regulator, OSCR. The announcement was made by Shirley-Anne Somerville, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, speaking in Glasgow today at the Tackling the Technology Gender Gap Together event.

Digital Xtra is now calling on Scotland’s tech industry to contribute donations, sponsorships and offers of in kind support to ensure that extracurricular digital initiatives are available to young people wherever they live and whatever their background. Funding has also been provided by the Digital Scotland Business Excellence Partnership, whose partners include the Scottish Government, Skills Development Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Funding Council, Education Scotland, ScotlandIS, and industry representatives. A key objective of the new charity is to promote gender balance by encouraging more girls to engage in digital and consider STEM subjects while in school.

“Our ambition for Scotland’s economy requires a digitally-skilled and empowered workforce. This immediate demand for women and men with strong and specialist digital skills sits side-by-side with a need to develop a broader pipeline over time – our labour market and STEM strategies and the priorities across our delivery and support systems, will reflect these needs,” said Sommerville.

“As we embrace digital it is vital that we take action to ensure that nobody is excluded from the benefits it provides. We remain committed to working in partnership to address under-representation of women in STEM and are always open to new thinking and bold and creative suggestions for improvement as part of the STEM strategy we are developing. We need STEM activities, initiatives and programmes to be better aligned with one another to maximise their impact.

“The Digital Xtra Fund is definitely a great example of this. It not only highlights the Scottish Government’s determination to close the digital skills gap faced by all sectors across the economy but also brings together a range of exciting digital opportunities for young people in one easily accessible place and does so in a new and innovative way. We must provide opportunities for our children and young people to develop their digital skills from a young age and Digital Xtra is doing just that, offering thousands of young people opportunities to strengthen their skills in this area through engagement in a range of innovative projects. ”

The new Scottish Government Digital Strategy sets out its ambition to create conditions in which Scotland can increase the number of people employed in digital technology roles to 150,000 by 2021. Increasing digital participation and preparing young people for the digital future by improving digital skills levels will be an integral component of this strategy. Career opportunities are significant, with an estimated 12,800 job opportunities available in Scotland annually.

The Digital Xtra Fund is looking for companies that wish to support young people and want to see a coordinated, sustainable and inclusive approach, gaining maximum value from coalescing funds. BT Scotland and Be Positive are two of the first industry supporters to make a contribution. Brendan Dick, Director of BT Scotland, said: “Digital skills are increasingly seen as a prerequisite, as important to the prospects of young people today as reading and writing. It’s essential our young people are equipped with the skills they need for the world of work, and the public, private and voluntary sectors all have a contribution to make in giving them the best possible chances. Supporting Digital Xtra will help us build a culture of tech literacy, as BT works to reach five million young people across the UK by 2020. We hope many Scottish businesses will join us in backing the Digital Xtra Fund.”

Vicky Di Ciacca, director at Be Positive, added: “It is vitally important that all young people are equipped to take on the challenge of our increasingly digital world. We are a small business and expect our future employees to lead the way when it comes to technology and how to harness it. Regardless of an individual’s ambitions and aspirations, digital skills are integral to engaging in the world of work and beyond.”

The Digital Xtra Fund was launched in May 2016, and has to date distributed £400,000 to organisations delivering extracurricular activities, with funding provided by the partners of the Digital Scotland Business Excellence Partnership. The 22 projects funded so far are expected to reach 15,000 school pupils across every local authority area in Scotland. Funded initiatives include the training of over 140 librarians to deliver Code Clubs, the expansion of Apps for Good across Scotland and initiatives that use the design of lighthouses to introduce ‘little engineers’ to STEM concepts.

EduTech 2017, hosted by FutureScot, is a one-day conference which will examine the ways technology is being used to enhance pupil experience and learning in Scottish schools and how it can be used within a classroom setting to engage and inspire both educators and learners. Tickets start from £49 (excl. VAT)