Education & Jobs

Harbour helps tackle digital skills gap

Belfast Harbour is helping tackle Northern Ireland’s digital skills gap with an initiative to introduce more than 450 pupils to computer coding.

450 Pupils to Benefit from Coding Classes 

Delivered free of charge to 18 schools, and with the help of more than 35 volunteers from the private sector, ‘Time to Code’ aims to address the lack of formal coding teaching available in local primary schools. 

An independent assessment of its pilot programme found that ‘Time to Code’ delivered a 60% increase in pupils who were interested in a career involving coding.  Participants also benefitted from increases in their awareness of coding and were more likely to explore coding in their own time. The programme is run by Business in the Community Northern Ireland. 

Joe O’Neill, CEO, Belfast Harbour said: 

“Belfast Harbour Estate is home to over 700 firms employing 23,000 – an increasing proportion of who are involved in digital and creative industries. 

“Northern Ireland has an excellent reputation in these sectors and as Belfast Harbour has developed office space at City Quays and Catalyst Inc. we have received strong interest from prospective tenants who need digitally skilled workers. 

“With no provision for the formal teaching of coding in the curriculum, however, initiatives such as ‘Time to Code’ are essential to enthusing a new generation of digital workers and ensuring that supply keeps pace with employers’ needs.” 

Delivered in partnership with the charity, Code Club, pupils attend an hour-long coding club for 12 weeks. Coding languages covered include Scratch, HTML, CSS and Python.  The initiative also aims to help pupils develop collaborative thinking, team working and problem solving. 

John Healy, Managing Director from Allstate, which ran a Time to Code camp during the summer, added:  

“Coding is very important when you think about the future and where everything is going. We need our children to learn 21st century skills for a 21st century world, and coding teaches them the creativity and problem-solving skills that are necessary for success.   

“The Allstate Time to Code camp in August was a huge success for both the children involved and our employees who volunteered to run it. We look forward to continuing and developing our Time to Code program in the future.” 

Ciara Mulgrew, Programme Executive, Business in the Community, said:  

“At Business in the Community, we seek to engage business in supporting people on their journey through education and into jobs, raising aspirations and improving skills and work readiness along the way.  

“It is surprising to note that, while Northern Ireland has quickly grown as an important tech hub, coding is not part of the formal curriculum delivered in schools here. That is slowly starting to change, however, the tech industry moves at an incredibly fast pace. By helping children learn to code in a variety of coding languages, it is equipping them with the skills needed in the future workplace. 

“It’s not all serious though, and both volunteers and pupils expressed their delight and enthusiasm throughout the pilot; something I’m sure we’ll see as ‘Time to Code’ ramps up over the coming weeks and months.” 

The 2017 NI Skills Barometer suggested that Northern Ireland needs to provide an additional 800 graduates annually in Engineering, Technology, Maths and Computer Science degrees.   

Volunteers interested in supporting ‘Time to Code’ don’t need to be in a coding role, but should be interested in coding and helping children learn new skills. For more information contact ciara.mulgrew@bitcni.org.uk