CoderDojo Whitechapel

This is for everyone

How digital learning programmes can
connect Tech City to local talent

The tech sector in inner East London is booming, but digital employers are facing
a shortage of skilled workers. If the skills gap is not addressed, London’s economy
will suffer. At the same time, young people who live in the area struggle to break into
the digital industries on their doorstep: they are not exposed to the opportunities
on offer in the digital economy and lack the right education and skills.

But we have identified over 60 Digital Learning Programmes throughout
inner East London – groups and organisations who operate beyond the
scope of traditional school and college courses. This young, fast growing
community can help young people overcome the barriers to entry into the
digital world, and ultimately find work in the sector.

Working with a large group of partners, Centre for London has developed
the Connecting Tech City initiative. It is a collaboration between digital
companies, sector bodies, local authorities, Digital Learning Programmes
and schools aimed at developing these programmes to widen young East
Londoners’ opportunities to learn digital skills.

The project aims to radically increase the number of young East Londoners
developing digital skills and securing a future in the local digital economy.
It is motivated by a desire to improve the life chances of local young people
and help the digital economy by increasing the supply of people with the
skills its needs.

Connecting Tech City Has Three Interconnected
strands. It Aims:

  • To support and grow networks of organisations, including companies,
    schools, colleges, charities, social enterprises and local authorities,
    committed to creating a more inclusive digital cluster, and promote
    collaboration between them.
  • To create a digital platform, wearedotdotdot, that would serve as a guide
    to the East London digital economy and a directory of the opportunities
    within. The platform is aimed first and foremost at helping East London's
    young people.
  • And it has conducted research to try to answer the question: what more can be
    done to develop and engage local digital talent and help local young
    people find work in Tech City?

While the Connecting Tech City initiative has focused firmly on inner East
London, we hope that it will have wider application – that lessons learned
from it will be useful to digital clusters elsewhere in the UK and beyond,
and even perhaps to other economic sectors facing similar challenges.

Learning in Inner
East London

Challenges for the digital economy, opportunities for East London

Shortage of Skilled Workers is Inhibiting Growth

In 2011, digital industries reported the worst labour shortages of any sector,
with 1 in 20 vacancies unfilled; of these, 90% were not filled due to lack of
appropriately skilled candidates rather than churn.

“We want specialists, but we’re
focusing too much on coding and
not around the skills you need to
make companies work – a jack of
all trades.”
– Digital corporate

As well as shortages in the more high-profile tech roles, like coding and developing, businesses are also making it clear that areas like web design and UX, as well as digital marketing and business development, are also in short supply.

Skills for the Future

With the digital economy growing, the skills gap looks set to widen. If the
workforce doesn’t keep pace, the cost to the economy could be disastrous.

According to a report by O2, the UK could need 745,000 additional workers
with digital expertise between 2013 and 2017. Between 2015 and 2020, the
European Commission estimates that the UK will have the largest digital
skills shortfall in the EU.

London’s economic growth will be driven forward by the digital economy.
In a survey by Deloitte, telecoms, media and technology companies were the
most likely to say they plan to increase their headcounts in London in the
coming years. An Oxford Economics report prepared for London and
Partners estimated that London’s digital industries could expand by 46,000
jobs by 2024.

O2 have estimated that failing to fill these new roles with qualified workers
could cost the UK around £2bn in lost GVA.

Why do the Digital Learning Programmes exist?

Most of the Digital Learning Programmes in East London are driven by one
of three principal aims: some want to boost social equity and mobility by
helping local young people build a future in the digital economy; others focus
on supporting and growing the digital economy by upskilling workers with
the skills the sector needs; while a third group of programmes work to
support schools in delivering creative teaching of digital skills.

How are the Digital Learning Programmes Delivered?


Learning programmes are delivered through events and courses which vary
in duration and intensity.

Coderdojo run 5 drop-in sessions
for young people in East
London between 7 and 17 years
old. Volunteers teach
programming, web development
and games development.
Participants are given the
chance to experience the
creativity and sociability of the
‘maker’ world.

Some are delivered through one-off events, like hack days, workshops or annual festivals like Young Rewired State’s Festival of Code or MozFest. Others deliver more regular meet-ups and drop-ins where content is incremental but where learners can pick and choose from what is on offer. Examples of these are Coderdojo, Diverse Digital or Geek Girl meet-ups, which are more like networks or clubs for hobbyists rather than structured courses. Digital Learning Programmes run part time, and some full time, courses. The Mobile Academy, for example, provides professional training two evenings a week during the length of the course. Full-time courses range from apprenticeship schemes to intensive bootcamps run by companies like Maker’s Academy.

Cost and funding

The majority of programmes we surveyed were free for participants, but
some charge either participants and/or employers. Some offer students the
ability to earn while they learn. These include apprenticeship schemes and
programmes like Aha Studios, who mentor freelancers through real world
commercial projects.

Funding for Digital Learning Programmes comes from a variety of sources.
Many rely on charitable, public sector and industry funding. Some charge
schools directly.


There is a great deal of variation in what is taught by different programmes.
Two thirds of those we surveyed focused on technical skills, primarily
coding and programming.

Programmes like Fluency are
responding directly to sector
shortages in digital marketing
by training young people
specifically in SEO, content
marketing and social media.

Other programmes teach skills including user experience,
data visualisation and design, digital marketing and
social media, and app and web design,
and some also aim to develop workplace skills like
communication, project management, teamwork and
client relationships. Unsurprisingly, given the sector-led
nature of Digital Learning Programmes, these skills
reflect the needs of the sector.

A third category of programmes provides higher level skills. One example is
City Unrulyversity, a pop-up university which runs courses on business skills
for digital entrepreneurs. Unrulyversity is open to anyone, but its target
audience is startups and entrepreneurs, many of whom will be graduates.


We have found that there are four main ways in which Digital Learning Programmes are
delivered: in schools as part of the school day; in schools but as
extra-curricular activities; teaching through educational kits or aids (used in
many settings); and completely detached from education institutions.

A significant proportion of the Digital Learning Programmes are delivered
in schools, some delivering parts of the curriculum and others like TeenTech
which do not teach the curriculum but happen in school time.

Others, such as Code Club, run sessions which are advertised and delivered
through the school but are delivered in after-schools clubs and are
extra-curricular in nature.

A third category is made up of programmes like Kano,
Sam Labs, and Technology Will Save Us, which develop
kits to aid digital learning at home or at school.

A fourth, and very significant category of programmes is
delivered completely detached from education
institutions. Some of these take place in community
settings, like Barclays Code Playground, which uses bank

Others are delivered in professional training settings. For
example, Freeformers who invite businesses into their
training space to be taught digital skills by young people,
who themselves have been trained up through the
Freeformers scheme. A final category of programmes
concentrate on responding to very local business need.
Newham College Social Media apprenticeship, for
example, has catered to the very specific digital
requirements of the local fashion industry.

CoderDojo Whitechapel

What Can Digital Learning
Programmes Contribute?

Companies can get a great deal of value from supporting Digital Learning
Programmes. Working with Digital Learning Programmes can make companies
more appealing to staff, helping retention and recruitment, and offer new
opportunities for innovation.

There are three particular problems facing the digital labour market.
East London’s Digital Learning Programmes can be an important part of the
solution for all of them.

Summary of

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