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25 July 2023updated 16 Aug 2023 10:38am

How the Digital Futures Academy is equipping students for the future

Manchester United Foundation and DXC Technology will upskill young people for the jobs of tomorrow.

When looking at the trajectory of the world’s economy and future job trends, the need is clear: Britain must build a new generation of digital and technology talent.

In Manchester, that journey is already beginning. DXC Technology has partnered with Manchester United Foundation to launch the Digital Futures Academy, a four-year education programme for secondary school students within the Greater Manchester area.

The scheme’s first intake will support 50 students aged 12-13 across six local schools – offering them a mix of digital skills and personal development coaching to help support the next generation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students.

“They will learn key social and technical skills through mentoring, personal development and practical sessions to build the social leaders of the future,” said Derek Allison, vice-president UK public sector, aerospace & defence at DXC Technology.

The support offered by DXC and Manchester United Foundation is all-inclusive. At the end of the programme, students will be supported with pathways into further education, colleges, apprenticeships and employment. “We are committed to making a positive impact on people, the environment and society through the power of technology,” Allison added. “We’re working together with the Foundation to educate and inspire a new generation of STEM students.” 

The UK faces a massive STEM skills shortage, meaning that the country’s historical status as a leader in technology and digital is at risk. Successive governments have tried to implement education and skills strategies but the talent pipeline has not come through in competitive numbers.

DXC, Allison believes, recognises “the challenges facing the sector and the broader economy, but also opportunities to tackle them.” He adds that “governments are eager to learn about the role and value of these partnerships, and we are happy to help.” John Shiels MBE, chief executive of Manchester United Foundation, described the Digital Futures Academy as a “long-term project that we hope will showcase the power of commercial partners and sporting entities coming together.”

He added: “Our goal is to provide life-changing opportunities and experiences to [young people]… so they can go on to develop their key digital and social skills and become social leaders of the future.” Furthermore, the fact that 60 per cent of the scheme’s participants are female will contribute to closing gender gaps in STEM.

At the Digital Futures Academy, students, taught by DXC’s experts, will develop skills in a variety of technological disciplines, including automation, coding, big data, virtual reality, security, as well as professional development skills. “During just the first few months of the programme,” explained Allison, “the students have been learning how to code autonomous vehicles first-hand from DXC experts who are driving software-defined vehicle development for some of the world’s biggest automotive companies.” Students have also been discovering the metaverse and immersive technologies through avatars in DXC’s own virtual world.

The personal and professional development coaching is equally important in the curriculum. Providing the students with the confidence to take on new challenges, build resilient mindsets, develop communication skills, and seize the new opportunities before them is a key pillar of the programme’s success. DXC chose to partner with Arcadia Consulting, with whom they work with on their own executive education programme, to deliver this part of the curriculum.

The right staff training is key to successfully running a programme like this, Shiels believes. “It’s imperative to have the best staff and content in place to support the young people on their journey,” he said. “We must show respect and communicate effectively, so that young people feel assured we have their best interest at heart. We want to make sure the programme is enjoyable and fun, but most importantly it provides a sense of belonging where children feel safe, secure and valued.”

Through the Digital Futures Academy, DXC and Manchester United Foundation are working closely with local government authorities, including Manchester City Council, to support the city in its mission to become a technology powerhouse.

Councillor Bev Craig, the leader of Manchester City Council, said that the “[Digital Futures Academy] has a vital part to play in giving young people the chance to get equipped from an early age with the skills they need to succeed, in what is a thriving part of our economy and a key growth sector for the city”.

The digital and creative sector in Manchester, Craig added, “is one of the most significant in Europe with 88,000 employees and counting”. She continued: “Employment possibilities within the sector are constantly evolving as is the need for a strong pipeline of future skilled talent – which in turn means opportunities for talented young people who have tech skills are growing all the time.”

For DXC, this partnership is about the company’s values. “At DXC, our vision goes beyond delivering excellence for our customers,” said Allison. “We have a strong focus on delivering social value as we strive to contribute to a better world through programmes that drive real impact.”

[See also: The government’s skills agenda is deeply flawed. But what would Labour do differently?]

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