By Denise Matthews
Startup Grind Gibraltar first invited Stewart Harrison to the stage in 2018. At the time he was Bayside Comprehensive School’s Head of Physics. He started training students as part of a programme in the school for CyberCenturion in 2014 beginning with seven students from Bayside, which grew to involve over 30 students from both comprehensive schools, between the ages of 13-18.
During those four years, Bayside reached the finals in 2015, won the competition in 2016 and won Best All Girls Team in 2018. What really struck a chord was the dedication of the volunteer coaches, including Stewart, resulting in the local all-girls team – a group of Westside students – making CyberCenturion history as they were crowned the UK’s top all-girls team. They were recognised by the UK Cabinet Office, which commended the team on twitter and marked their achievement on International Women’s Day.
This was followed with an event in 2019 with Lluis Mora as the speaker who is now Chief Security Officer at Entain and also been one of the coaches of the Cyber Centurion Club. Here Stewart launched the iDEA Awards, an international programme aiming to help address the digital skills gap. The programme provides free digital skills education in the form of engaging online modules ranging from GDPR, Blockchain, Coding and Animation. This all culminated in the launch of the Gibraltar Digital Skills Foundation in February 2020, a registered charity aiming to deliver the development of digital skills around Gibraltar.
Just last month the foundation was shortlisted as a finalist in the 2021 edition of the UK’s prestigious National Cyber Awards together with three other finalists, the UK’s leading children’s charity, the NSPCC; The Cyber Helpline, a charity that supports victims of cybercrime; and Charity Digital, an organisation that helps other charities speed up their mission using technology. This is an excellent recognition of the tremendous work that has been carried out already, including supporting senior citizens with setting up technology enabling them to communicate with loved ones; setting up donated technologies for children with limited resources to access online learning platforms and word processing programs over lockdown; collection and donation of iPads and laptops to children with no access; and setting up the Gibraltar Digital Skills Academy.
The academy is the biggest milestone for the foundation in its efforts to address the digital skills gap to begin by offering a number of extracurricular activities in cybersecurity and programming with all sessions being led by industry experts. Partnerships are being established in the coming months with a number of multinational companies, which will bring industry training, guaranteed internships, and direct input into the academy’s curriculum. A Memorandum of Understanding has already been signed off with Cyber Security Challenge UK, one of the largest cybersecurity educational providers in the UK; this will ensure that the learning at the Academy is not only world-class but up-to-date with industry’s needs.
The founding trustee of the foundation/Academy and instigator of all the initiatives Stewart Harrison adds: “It is not only about work and employment, there are a number of seminars and coffee mornings planned to help and advise parents how best to keep their children safe online for example. The Academy will also be hosting the silver generation who need guidance on how to utilise the technology they have, from setting up food delivery, using Google Maps to navigate and any other difficulties they may be finding.
“Technology is for all and designed as such. It’s just that it runs at such a pace that some of us get left behind. The Academy’s aims are lined up to ensure everyone in society has every opportunity to better their lives using technology, be it to order a burger or learning the skills and being inspired to start the next technology superpower.”
There is an incredibly high demand for digital skills in the workplace and businesses but the education system cannot keep up with the changing demands of the technology industry. This has been exacerbated by the pandemic for households too. If you have no access to online resources and are not familiar with usage the consequences have been devastating. The digital skills gap has two major factors: trained graduates and existing workforce. For developed economies the lack of digital skills amongst existing workers is a particular problem and not tackling the issue will inhibit the growth of individual businesses and economies by causing deflation.
Supporting individuals and teams who are passionate about their projects and identifying the vision which provides the solutions that bring long term value to a wide spectrum of our society is what made it obvious for us at Startup Grind Gibraltar to get behind the foundation and academy. Developing tech-focused economies, jurisdictions and established businesses with large workforces will stem from being able to adopt the digital technologies that are most efficient. Effectively and promptly training the workforce to be proficient in relevant digital skills will facilitate economic growth.
To drive a start-up and innovation hub to success there has to be a public and private enabling of digital skills learning programmes that are easily accessible to everyone which can also mean learn as you earn. This is the groundwork that will encourage old and new generations to engage in entrepreneurship and build sustainable, scalable, global solutions using technology. Hopefully this will also help build a better, more equal world.
October will see the official launch of the academy www.digitalacademy.gi.