A note from the Director: The Next Stage of Our Journey

Last Tuesday was Ada Lovelace day. Sometimes referred to as the mother of programming, Ada was a visionary, a pioneer able to see the potential for technology over the detail. She worked with Charles Babbage on his Inference Engine, and by the time she died in 1852 she had seen the opportunity that computers could play more than simply mathematical calculations.

Tuesday was also the day that we hosted around 80 people to help us choose one or more partners to work with to further our mission for a diverse workforce for the future.

The top floor of Engine Shed is the home, or connecting point, for 85 technology businesses, all destined to be pioneers in their fields. Why are only 15% of these entrepreneurs women? Why doesn’t the community there – of both entrepreneurs and employees – reflect the 187 different countries of origin that exist in the West of England, and the 92 languages spoken? And that’s not including C, C++, Python, Ruby-on-rails, and plenty of others that even I – a computer science and electronics graduate – don’t recognise now.

We live in a rapidly, even exponentially, changing world of work. When I was at school it was easy. The teachers knew what the world of work looked like. My maths teacher showed me my first silicon chip (a 555 timer if I’m not mistaken), my games teacher inspired me to play around with electronics kits, and the careers teacher (a biologist if I remember correctly) told me not to be an RSPCA inspector, for some reason.

But life was simple – you could be a lawyer, plumber, accountant, doctor, mechanic, computer scientist… We had pretty much a 1:1 mapping between profession, or trade, and sector you were in. 35 years on, and it is complicated out there. You can be a developer in a bank, you can be a full-time Twitter community manager, you can be a ‘scrum-leader’, a ‘dev-op’ or a ‘UX manager’ – and each of those in any sector you could possibly imagine. Or you can be an entrepreneur, of course.

The companies at Engine Shed are recruiting. In many areas they are short of people. There are big corporates in the city looking to recruit many 100s of jobs. Increasingly, companies are seeing the value – yes the value, not the obligation – of having a diverse workforce. Just the other week Warren East, chief exec of Rolls Royce, was at Engine Shed saying that diversity wins every time.

The shortage of skills is a long-term problem, which gives us an opportunity: we need the kids in our skillsets to be in the workforce – and they will be welcomed.

Last Tuesday evening was all about finding new, innovative ways – in a city-region bursting with innovation – to make sure that the kids in our schools today, tomorrow and the next few years, see some light at the end of what looks like a long and confusing tunnel: a future for themselves, and a life of work that they can be proud of and contribute to.

We need the kids in our schools to aspire to work, otherwise we’re stuffed, quite frankly. Engine Shed exists to help ensure that we have a long-term, sustainable economy that works for everyone, and this project aims to work on just one aspect of that – the talent piece: making sure that we have a Diverse Workforce for the Future.

Since opening in 2013 we have hosted over 2500 young people and nearly 250 teachers, and I really hope that we have made a positive impact on all of them. But to date we have mostly selected those we want to work with, or responded to those schools or groups that have felt able to approach us. That’s not good enough, so we created an open call for ideas, for better, more innovative and, more importantly, more inclusive ideas.

On Tuesday we showcased eight projects, from 64 that expressed interest, and the 18 that made it through our rigorous application process. I am grateful to the judges for helping us shortlist these eight, and it should be highlighted that we had a very constructive and robust debate, including with senior elected members of the four local authorities.

I’m also particularly grateful to Georgie, who has done a fantastic job working with us for the last six months on this project. We will run this campaign in the future – the more sponsorship, meeting room hires, etc that we get, the sooner we will have the more cash to do it with.

The Engine Shed team took feedback and questions from the ‘Ideas to Pitch’ audience, and combined with the detailed applications from the eight shortlisted projects, decided that the four-way ‘super project’ would be the ultimate way to deliver its mission of stimulating long-term, sustainable, and inclusive economic growth across the West of England.

To find which four applicants won the Call for Ideas, and what this means for the project going forward, read our news article here.

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