Digital Xtra Fund has launched its latest funding round to support extracurricular activities and boost interest in computing and tech among young Scots.
A total of £75,000 will be awarded to digital skills initiatives throughout Scotland via the Digital Xtra Fund, with individual grants of up to £5,000 available. To date, the Fund has helped engage nearly 30,000 young people across Scotland and awarded a total of £550,000.
Last year’s funding supported more than 20 initiatives spanning subject areas ranging from robotics and coding to app development and the Internet of Things (IoT).
The move follows concerning stats revealed by the SQA that showed a significant decrease in computing science higher entries across Scotland in 2019. The fund is urging educators and industry figures to improve collaboration and combat the digital skills gap, which could damage the Scottish tech sector.
Kraig Brown, partnership and development manager at Digital Xtra Fund, said the funding “could not come at a more important time”, and insisted that industry and academia must do more to boost engagement in tech-related subjects.
“We will be awarding £75,000 to tech-related activities for young people and it could not come at a more important time,” he said. “We cannot ignore the latest figures regarding participation in computing science or what this means for the future of tech in Scotland.”
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Recent figures highlighted a 21% drop in computing science higher entries, as well as a 2% drop in Nat 5 entries. This decline in computing science engagement represents the largest drop across any subject and is a “worrying trend” that has persisted for some time now, Brown noted.
Decreased uptake of tech subjects could have a greatly negative impact on Scotland’s job market. There are roughly 12,800 digital tech job opportunities annually, compared to around 5,000-6,000 people entering the space each year with relevant skills.
“We are at a crossroads; we need to decide now if Scotland will be a leader or a follower in this digital world – and it all starts with young people. Scotland is prime placed to be a digital leader with an abundance of universities and colleges and a burgeoning tech scene, but inspiring young people to be the digital leaders of tomorrow is essential to maintain this momentum,” Brown said.
“Without more skilled a creative talent, Scotland will inevitably fall behind. However, a lack of understanding about what are careers in tech, coupled with negative stereotypes and strong gender imbalances, are creating serious challenges for engaging and inspiring more young people to take up computing,” he added.
Sam Pattman, sponsorship manager at Baillie Gifford, which supports the Digital Xtra Fund grant awards, echoed Brown’s comments. Pattman emphasised the importance of initiatives such as Digital Xtra Fund, which could play a crucial role in inspiring more young people into tech roles.
She said: “Digital skills are a serious challenge across Scotland, which is illustrated by the number of tech jobs that companies struggle to fill due to the skills shortage. The solution lies in educating our young people and collectively we need to work together to inspire more children to become interested in computing science and technology.
“This is why initiatives like the Digital Xtra Fund are so important – it’s about working together and supporting exciting digital initiatives to give more children the opportunity to understand what a future in tech may be.”