Data champion unveils plan to inspire next generation

Rachel_DSC6028_2One of the key architects of the Women in Data programme is branching out on her own to launch a new scheme designed to inspire young people to consider the huge opportunities offered by a career in data, in a major drive to meet soaring demand for industry professionals.

Rachel Keane, who has over 20 years’ industry experience, co-founded the Women in Data group in 2014.

In 2017, Women in Data joined forces with The Female Lead, the not for profit organisation set up by industry advocate Edwina Dunn, to launch the “20 in Data & Technology”, the initiative designed to showcase outstanding stories of female achievement in data science across the UK.

Motivated by these experiences – and fuelled by her passion for working in education – Keane founded the Data Inspiration Group this summer. She has now set up Digdata to promote career opportunities offered by the data industry by setting up relationships between educational establishments and industry partners to build awareness and develop future talent.

One of the key aims of Digdata is to change the perception that data is only for those who love numbers and is an extension of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths).

With businesses now targeting those whose core skills are curiosity, creativity, story-telling, and problem solving, data has become one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK, with demand for talent tripling in the past five years, a growth rate that is forecast to continue.

Latest figures from the Government’s National Data Strategy recorded more than 100,000 roles vacant in 2019; this is likely to be even higher now given the increased demand on data professionals following the outbreak of the Covid pandemic.

The organisation, which has already signed a deal with Facebook, with other leading household names to be announced in the coming weeks, looks to inspire young people’s interest in data by connecting students, parents/guardians and educators with data professionals who work in a wide range of roles from fashion through to finance, sport to social media, travel to telecoms.

The programme is free, and students have access to live online career challenges, and the opportunity to interact with relatable role models still in the early stages of their careers and solve real business problems or social issues using data.

These bite size projects are rewarded with a virtual work experience certificate and provide the first step in a recruitment process for internships and work placements. The programme aligns with the Gatsby benchmarks that schools and colleges work towards to connect curriculum-based learning with careers.

The Digdata programme, available as a classroom resource or to individual students, delivers across three educational steps that promote the awareness, knowledge and skills required for a career in data.

Events are tailored to relevant year groups, starting at group 7-9 where students consider options for GCSEs and think about further education choices, progressing through groups 10-13 and on to university and higher education level.

Keane said: “We intend to dispel the myth that the data industry is not cool or creative. Data is used globally every day to make decisions that affect us all yet is not seen as a subject that receives specific teaching in schools, colleges and university and is rarely mentioned as a future career.

“Digdata intends to inspire young minds on a path towards new exciting career opportunities in data that can combine their passion and interest, their natural personal skills and curriculum-based learning, while offering continuous professional development.”

Roger Taylor, chair of the Government backed Centre for Data Ethics & Innovation and former chair of Ofqual, has backed the launch of Digdata.

He commented: “Every young person should be given a chance to understand the varied world of work and the opportunities open to them after education. Enabling them to hear directly from employers about the challenges they face and the skills they are looking for is a great way to inspire and encourage students to learn and develop.

“I am delighted that Digdata are bringing such energy to making this happen in the world of digital and data – technologies that will do so much to shape our future.”

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