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Inspiring the disruptors of tomorrow

Laura Cox | D/sruption | 28 November 2017

This article was first published on D/sruption.

PA Consulting Group’s head of digital delivery, Anita Chandraker, is interviewed by Laura Cox in D/sruption in a piece reporting on PA's annual Raspberry Pi competition, which aims to promote science and technology to primary school, secondary school, sixth form and college students.

At a time when more and more companies are decrying the lack of tech savvy people with a keen eye for innovation and problem solving, Laura asks: ‘How can business address the widening talent gap in tech?’ 

Anita said: “We recognise that for all organisations, whether they’re public sector or private sector, the ability to embrace the opportunities that technology provides is absolutely critical. We see, every day, that we can’t find enough talent with the right skills – this is a supply problem.”

This year’s Raspberry Pi competition will deal with the theme of sustainability, which the company chose after receiving feedback from the schools.

Anita said: “We polled schools and offered a few different options. We want it to be simple enough to be a purpose that young people can relate to. Last year the theme was helping people to lead healthier lives. For example, some children were inspired by their grandparents who were living on their own. It was very relevant to them.”

Laura noted that last year’s winning entrants created a wearable device that helps deafblind people identify visitors, a monitoring tool for carers of the elderly, and a learning game designed to support those with Attention Deficit Disorders and Dyslexia. So in a crowded field, what makes a winning idea?

Anita explains: “We look for the clarity of the idea, and how relevant is it as a concept. We look at how they have worked as a team to deliver the outcome, as well as the quality of technical solution. Sometimes it’s also about the passion, determination and the excitement that they show for what they’ve done.”

While the winning team receives £1,000 for their school, it’s not just about winning. Each team gets access to an incredible knowledge resource through a dedicated PA Consulting Group portal, which offers mentoring and advice, not just the children but the teachers as well.

“We get the teams to appear before the judges so they get to present to people like Rory Cellan-Jones from the BBC,” says Anita. “We’ve picked up that some of them have a real relevance to adult social care, and we got the children back in the summer to do a Dragon’s Den style presentation to people in that sector. That shows that they can take their ideas further than just building something for the competition.”

By mixing up how the pupils develop and present their ideas, even those pupils with little exposure to technology are given the opportunity to shine.

“We’ve actually had comments back from some of the kids to say, ‘Well this has been great fun because I didn’t have to do the technology bit, but I could still contribute and what I did was useful and valuable.’ So, part of it is the tech skills, but it’s also the awareness and excitement about what technology offers in all its different guises.” 

Indeed, the same is true when it comes to the diversity of the teams. According to Anita, teams are put forward from a diverse range of backgrounds and gender, which helps to foster collaboration.

Anita continues: “I think there are many such initiatives that do things to encourage young people to engage. I guess what we are doing aligns closely with what PA stands for – we are passionate about innovation and entrepreneurship, and not technology for technology’s sake. It’s about the power of the technology to drive change. Looking at problems from the outside in and seeing technology as the answer rather than just ‘something that you do’ is very important.”

Laura concludes by saying that initiatives like PA’s Raspberry Pi Competition show that anybody can get involved in science and technology. By focusing on the younger generation and encouraging them to develop their technical skills, companies like PA are actively encouraging the next generation of innovators to meet industry’s future technical challenges head-on.

“Hopefully,” says Anita, “We’ll touch the lives of a number of students coming through this in a meaningful way that means they’re inspired to go on and pursue this as a career.”

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