Plenty of people, myself included, have chuntered on about the digital skills gap that threatens economic growth in the UK. That if we don’t address the language skills that we presume we’ll need in the 21st Century (Mandarin and coding), then we’ll be left behind. And we add to that the comedy angle – how intuitive the kids are, compared to the parents and isn’t it funny how the kids mastered the iPad so quickly?
Very few of us have looked at the issue and seen the iniquity – yes, women are under-represented in the tech industry; yes parents need to learn new skills just as much as their children do. And yes – that can actually be a way out of economic hardship.
Dr. Sue Black is a remarkable woman. She’s reinvented herself (she blogged that story here) and become one of the most significant people in the UK tech scene. She has understood how technology and an understanding of it, can transform lives and create new opportunities. And she’s taking that experience making it practical.
I first encountered Dr. Black with Unbound, where I do a spot of work occasionally, where she crowd-funded a book about Bletchley Park in three days – and now she’s taken that networking talent into creating #techmums.
#techmums is a drive to take women who are in the drudgery of low-horizon jobs that come from basing your work hours around school drop-off and pick-up, and re-skill them with the kind of tech skills that can empower them to understand the internet better, and drive their own businesses and pull themselves and their families out of poverty. It’s based around schools because that’s why so many women’s routines are centered and because better skillsets can help women back into the workforce once the children become self-sufficient. And it doesn’t just change the mother’s horizons, it changes the family outlook too.
Nicholas Soar, the head of Bishop Challoner, one school that’s hosting the programme, said in The Guardian:
“I saw the massive impact it had on both family and child. So many parents don’t know how to track or monitor their child’s internet footprint, nor do they have any sense of how to programme in a computing language. The parents’ own fears create a parallel reluctance in their daughters to approach computing and computer science. But #techmums has increased confidence and self-esteem that sets them apart from people who haven’t completed the course.”
But it’s early days and the crowdfunding is still going on – those of us who gather around our Macs and bemoan the shortfall in digital skills should look and wonder at someone who’s doing something about it. And then we should join in.