Cornwall’s tech industry is thriving. It is doing so well it has grown by 31% in the last 12 month alone and it is continuing to grow and create jobs.
According to some of the biggest players in the county’s tech sector, there is a continuous shortage of IT skilled programmers and coders – but not of raw talent.
So, how do firms in the sector not only attract national and international talent but better still, nurture the local skills?
As part of the Cornwall Live EDGE Awards, in association with Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Growth Hub and Skills Hub, we’ve taken a look at what’s happening in schools and colleges to get young people interested in technology.
The Skills Hub has been developed as a new signposting service that offers business a free skills review and then matches them with the right skills and training provision, helping them develop their staff and grow their business at the same time.
But the training has to start in schools and there’s a huge amount of work that’s being done to ensure schools and colleges are getting kids involved in tech and making coding fun and interesting.
Truro and Penwith College, who are also supporting our EDGE Awards, and Cornwall College have been working on a programme to entice young people into the courses that will put them on a tech career path in Cornwall.
Internet of Things software company Bluefruit is working with colleges and schools in Cornwall to help nurture Cornwall’s raw tech talent (Image: Bluefruit Software)
Several of Cornwall’s leading technology companies are working closely with Cornwall’s further education providers to create tailor-made courses that suit the needs of the industry.
Paul Clark, CEO and founder of Packet Ship, a tech company in Falmouth which supplies on-demand TV software and technology to the leisure and hospitality industry in 50 countries, believes change is happening and schools, further education colleges and Falmouth University, are all working together, hand-in-hand with companies to create the necessary courses and tech workshops that will keep Cornwall coding.
He said: “There’s now a really tight relationship between businesses and education providers. For many years Cornwall was left to its own devices so we had to plug the skills gap ourselves.
“It’s the great Cornish thing of doing it yourself because no-one will do it for you. It had the effect of developing the courses at the colleges that will provide skilled people that the tech sector needs.”
Paul Clark, CEO of Falmouth-based Packet Ship, a company which supplies on-demand TV software and technology to the leisure and hospitality industry in 50 countries (Image: Sally Adams)
All in the sector believe firms and colleges must have the long term view in mind for tomorrow’s coders are in primary schools today.
Kim Conchie, chief executive of Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, believes retention of local talent and recruitment of some of the world’s top brains is the key to Cornwall Tech sector’s future.
He said: “While we need to ensure schools, further education colleges and the university understand what skills are needed by the industry so we don’t just rely on incomers.
“Our technological connectivity is up there with the best in Europe, yet Cornwall needs to attract world class brains or it will start losing out.
“That’s what we need to do as Team Cornwall.”
Tech firms big and small, primary and secondary schools and higher and further education providers in the county are working hand in hand to excite young people about technology, and making programming accessible and fun.
Paul Massey, director of Pool-based Bluefruit, an Internet of Things software company employing 40 people, is among the firms working with the colleges to promote new talent.
He said: “Several years ago when we advertised for a software developer and a software tester we received three or four applications for a developer but hundreds for a tester. That’s when the penny dropped.
“We realised that there was plenty of raw talent available in Cornwall. These people might not have had the chance to go to university to study coding but they were enthusiastic and keen to learn. So we offered them the chance to spend 30% of their time learning to become software developers.
“That was the beginning of our home grown pipeline of talent.”
Training the Cornish tech wizzkids of tomorrow is a long and ongoing process, one that both Truro and Penwith and Cornwall College have taken to heart.
Truro and Penwith College recently launched its Software Developer Apprenticeship to give budding computer coders an opportunity to realise their dream albeit based on the real needs of local tech companies and employers.
Firms currently working with the College to recruit the first group of Apprentices have included Cornwall Council, Bluefruit, Gendall Design, Hertzian, Affinity Digital, Imprimus Plc and Bespoke IT.
Truro and Penwith College students on a game design course (Image: Truro and Penwith College)
Tom Moran, customer development manager at Truro and Penwith College, said: “Our Employer Skills Group in Digital and IT is made up of key individuals who represent several key organisations in the sector.
“The group works with the College to discuss common challenges such as recruitment and skills shortages, and develop solutions.
“The new Apprenticeship is the first product of this group, and can be used by employers to train existing members of staff or recruit fresh talent into their organisation. Our aim is to develop digital skills and retain talent in Cornwall, both key in developing the strength of the Cornish economy.”
Allyn Jefferies, deputy team leader of maths and computing at the college added: “We want to inspire the next generation to invest in their digital skills, and take up the opportunity to gain a University-equivalent qualification via the Apprenticeship route.”
Cornwall College is also doing its bit to nurture homegrown tech talents in Cornwall and encourage young people to consider a career in gaming or software programming.
It too has teamed up with Pool-based Bluefruit to launch its I Am Digital programme and Digital Academy, helping students to earn their Technical Baccalaureate while working on real projects.
Software Cornwall’s social coding events to encourage young people into computing (Image: Software Cornwall)
A spokesman for Cornwall College said its tech experts had created a special Labster software and VR goggles set up to use during school visits and external events.
The equipment allows students to engage with Science, technology, engineering and mathematics in ways that wouldn’t usually be available to them.
He said: “For many young people it is their first experience of Virtual Reality and a chance to learn about how quickly the tech industry is developing.
“It allows students to see the value of the concepts they are learning in physics classes such as lenses and prisms or gyroscopes, as well as the potential to develop world changing experiences through high level coding skills such as the development of medical operations simulations for training surgeons.”
Cornwall Live EDGE Awards launches to celebrate the success of digital business in Cornwall
The college also highlights the tech sector to school children through its Game Changer – Building Better Opportunities, an ESF Lottery funded project which has actively involved more than 300 young people throughout the Duchy.
The college has also worked with Software Cornwall to create a Level 3 Laboratory Technician Apprenticeship programme which is an apprenticeship scheme aimed at a broader audience than traditional science degrees.
Dr Mark Nason, director of Science and Natural Environment at the College, said the college was a keen supporter of Agile on the Beach, the not for profit organisation set up to help bring agile talent and skills to Cornwall and raise the visibility of the growing Cornish Tech community.
He added: “A thriving area of tech in Cornwall is games design and our ground-breaking courses are in high demand.
“Students learn to develop games and their content following industry standard processes.”
Cornwall’s tech companies are working hand in hand with education providers to boost IT skills in the county
Through Software Cornwall, a not-for-profit organisation set up to bring the industry together, Code Clubs in schools, programming Jams with teenagers and up-to-date IT courses that match the industry’s constantly evolving needs, are among the educational steps put in place in Cornwall to overcome any future IT skills shortage.
Code Clubs are supported by volunteers from the Cornish software industry who provide a one-hour session every week building and extending up on the schools ICT curriculum.
A spokeswoman for Software Cornwall said: “We recognise the need to get our children excited about coding and making electronic devices work.
“We would like to see every school in Cornwall, primary and secondary, running after/out of school coding clubs.”
For Code Clubs to work, Software Cornwall needs 400 volunteers from the tech industry itself.
In the same vein, and to further career opportunities in the IT sector among Cornwall’s teens, local volunteers set up and run monthly Tech Jams events which are held usually on the second Saturday of the month.
The college spokesman added: “We have a number of Raspberry Pi computers enabling young people to experiment with and learn how to program in Minecraft, control traffic lights with Python and Scratch, compose music with Sonic Pi, use the Raspberry Pi camera to take pictures and record video and even program robots.”
Truro and Penwith College coders (Image: Truro and Penwith College)
Falmouth University’s academic departments, especially its Games Academy, are also doing outreach work in schools to develop aspiration and engagement with higher education – the idea being that it can entice young people into the industry through gaming.
Meanwhile its £12m EU-funded Launchpad programme is the extension of its work in schools. Within three years, Launchpad is expected to create 128 new jobs and 32 companies based in Cornwall, all in knowledge-intensive sectors.
A spokeswoman for the university said: “Launchpad is a Masters and business incubation programme which reverses the traditional start-up model; it creates new companies in direct response to an identified industry demand. Instead of starting with an entrepreneur and their idea, Launchpad begins with the customer and their business challenge.
“Global companies including Hitachi, Amazon, Sony Interactive Entertainment and the BBC pitch a challenge to Launchpad students – a request for something they want developed, but don’t have the expertise or capacity to tackle in-house. Graduates with complementary skills then tackle the industry requirement and a high-growth start-up is developed around the solution.
“This approach dramatically de-risks business start-ups and increases success rate.”
These are the Cornish schools with Code Clubs:
Bosvigo School, Truro
Brannel School, St Stephen
Cape Cornwall School, St Just
Devoran School, Devoran
Five Islands School, Isles of Scilly
Kehelland School, Camborne
King Charles Primary, Falmouth
Mount Hawke Academy, Mount Hawke
Mounts Bay Academy
Newquay Junior Academy, Newquay
Perranporth CP School
Roskear Primary School
St Columb Minor Academy, Newquay
St Giles On the Heath Primary School, Launceston
St Ives Junior School, St Ives
St John’s Catholic Primary School, Camborne
St Mark’s CE Primary School, Bude
St Martin in Meneage
St Mewan County Primary School, St Austell
Trewirgie Junior School, Redruth
Troon County Primary School, Camborne
And these are the schools which have expressed an interest in setting up a Code Club:
Falmouth Primary Academy
Mevagissey Primary School
Pensans CP School
St Agnes School
St Meriadoc CofE Junior Academy
Truro Prep School
Wadebridge Primary Academy
The EDGE Awards
The first-ever Cornwall Live EDGE Awards – Excellent in Digital, Gadgetry and Entrepreneurialism – launched this week in association with by Cornwall Growth Hub and Skills Hub to celebrate the tech sector in Cornwall.
With the support of some major organisations, like Headforwards , Engineered Arts and Truro and Penwith College, we’re looking for Cornwall’s digital superstars, from the school projects and teachers using software, tech, digital and design to new start-ups, digital entrepreneurs, games designers, software developers, website, app and video producers and digital media gurus.
Cornwall Live EDGE Awards
You can nominate yourself, your business, or someone else that you think deserves recognition. Either nominate through our website www.cornwalllive.com/EDGEawards or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please submit a short one-minute video where possible along with your entry – which can either be a corporate or a simple straight-to-smartphone talking camera piece.
Here are the categories…
Most inspirational IT/ digital/ multimedia teacher
Best school IT/ digital/ multimedia project
Digital rising star
Best video production company
Best games developer
Best community/ social use of digital
Best software developer
Best social media engagement initiative
Best digital media company
Best website or app
Best IoT development
The Edge Award for Excellence
Our EDGE supporters
Source: Cornwall Live