I have long thought that the digital economy has the potential to offer new horizons to many of the young East Enders who for whatever reasons feel excluded from many of the other employment options available in London. The issue was touched on at two conferences I attended recently, Future London, and the London Policy Conference.
Here are a few notes:
One of the most stinging challenges levelled at the government’s championing of the inner East London tech scene is its lack of diversity. In stark contrast to the local communities, a recent report for the think tank Centre for London on the Tech City policy found that the Shoreditch-centred tech community was overwhelmingly white, male and British.
For the report, A Tale of Tech City, I interviewed chief executives at many of the digital economy companies that are clustering in inner East London. There may be a lack of diversity, but I found a huge amount of good willing waiting to be tapped for the benefit of young Hackney residents, with many CEO personally committed to helping the local community bridge the technology knowledge gap.
“We’ve done workshops in skills and when you show kids how creative they can be with something like programming, like make something happen on a screen by moving their hands in the air, they’ll go nuts, “ said one chief executive.” Just show them the potential.”
The digital economy mushrooming around the Old Street roundabout offers a real possibility for Hackney’s unemployed youth. Digital technology not only inspires those who’ve been turned off by mainstream education, it’s also more accessible: the best coders, like musicians, are self-taught.
Some CEOs volunteer their skills in programs like Apps for Good, run by CDI Europe, or Devcamp, both of which teache young people to create imaginative mobile apps. Others offer internships or take part in schemes such as the recently announced Tech City Apprenticeship programme. Delivered by Hackney Community College, this government-backed scheme will give 500 unemployed young people the opportunity to work in companies including Google Campus, Facebook, TechHub, Moo.com, Poke London, The Trampery and Passion Capital.
For young people, there are real jobs at the end of such courses. One teenager who taken part in Devcamp was finding work only a few months after learning how to code.
“I don’t need to worry about getting a job anymore,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about my young age or lack of previous experience: code wins the argument.”
Gavin Poole, CEO of the iCity bid to provide a tech hub in the broadcast and media centres of the Olympic Park, said at the recent London Conference 2012 that there could be an “explosion of jobs and growth” in the area – but more efforts may be required if local communities are to benefit.
Speaking at the same conference, Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, said it’s a “disgrace” how few jobs the Olympics provided for the local community. She called on the government agencies in charge of the legacy of the Games to do better in future.