Rachael Turner is a Director at Manchester Digital Laboratory (MadLab), a DigiKnow network partner. Here she provides an update on their free beginners’ coding course for young people, the subject of MadLab’s earlier blog, and feedback from some of the learners pictured above.

The European digital inclusion campaign ALL DIGITAL Weeks is currently underway, running from April 17th to May 7th, with a focus on enhancing digital skills. This call to action is aimed at everyone, encouraging them to learn new skills, both basic and advanced, in order to face the challenges of digital transformation with confidence.

Reskilling for All

A key aspect of this year’s campaign is Reskilling for All. In today’s society, many people lack the necessary digital skills to participate fully in the digital world. This can lead to exclusion from job opportunities and hinder their ability to adapt to the changing digital landscape. At MadLab, we have been asking ourselves a lot about who gets to access these digital skills and how we can make them available to everyone.

While there are many options for digital skills training available online, not everyone has equal access to these resources. Digital skills boot camps and digital apprenticeships are often expensive and/or require a significant time commitment, which can make them inaccessible to many people. Many tech jobs require a degree (although this is slowly changing), which can be a barrier for those who don’t have the financial means or desire to attend college or university.

This is where MadLab’s digital skills training courses come in.

Introduction to Web Development course

Over the last five weeks, we have been running an Introduction to Web Development course at Stockport Museum, teaching 30 young people (aged 18-30) how to create their own websites using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. They’ve created wonderful work: we saw websites on the wonders of frogs, a presidential campaign, and how gardening can support your well-being, to name but a few!

One of our learners, Jayla Clegg (pictured above, left), said:

The course reignited my passion for programming and made me want to pursue jobs in that area. The atmosphere was inviting and welcoming, and I enjoyed how the course challenged the stereotype of the white middle class man as a programmer: the group of learners was very diverse, in terms of both gender and ethnicity, and at least 50% of the tutors/mentors/external speakers were female.  

I also really enjoyed helping the other learners when they got stuck because it challenged me to make sure I understood something properly and reinforce my own learning. It also made me think about how I can explain things to someone else, who might think differently to me. This made me think about potentially going into teaching if I don’t end up going into software development. My next steps are to complete a Level 3 Award in Education and Training to further explore the possibilities of going into teaching, and to apply for a Degree apprenticeship in Software Development for September. I’ve also been invited back by MadLab to be a mentor on the next course they run which is very exciting!”

Now that the course has finished, we’re helping all our learners make decisions about what they want to do next. Some will go into tech jobs, others will apply their new skills to other careers and industries. We are firm believers that, on coming onto our courses, learners don’t *have* to get a job in tech. And although many of our previous learners have gone on to digital industry jobs – for example at the BBC, Autotrader, Music Magpie, and Barclays – others have gone into film-making, publishing, or construction. They’re a very diverse bunch!

For those that do choose to go down the tech career route, they’ll be in good company: software development is the number one most in-demand role by employers in Greater Manchester. That’s why it’s really important that – as Jayla says – the industry shakes off its reputation of being “pale, stale, and male” to be inclusive of everyone. There is a huge opportunity for new perspectives and talent right now, especially as we are entering a new era in tech with the advent of AI tools such as ChatGPT.

So future courses will be aimed at people wanting to change careers, people who are long-term unemployed, women, and the over 50s. If this has piqued your interest, we’d love to hear from you (details below). We’ll be running more in-person courses later this year (dates TBC).

A group of people with certificates

If you want to get started (almost) straight away, we have also developed a free online course for people in Greater Manchester. Featuring bite-sized videos and exercises and supported by live tutors, it’s a great way to learn more about this exciting field. We’ll be opening up a new cohort in early June.

If you’re interested in taking part in either (or both), please sign up to our mailing list or drop us a line at hello@madlab.org.uk, and we will be in touch soon.

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