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Turning Covid Crisis into a Game Changer

Going virtual has propelled Digital Explorers, TCS’ technology career series, into the future 

“Yet another amazing day full of activities, workshops, and live panel events. Unfortunately, today was the last day of live events :(. From tomorrow, we are on our own in developing our app!”

This is how one student reacted to the schedule for the second Virtual Digital Explorers series in July 2020. It was typical of many of the responses heard after the once physical-first technology career series made the jump to digital.

The ideas those students, aged 16–17, produced – from a lockdown fitness app to an interactive map that helps homeless people find facilities and job opportunities in their city – showcase how virtual learning environments can be just as inspiring as their physical counterparts.

The virtual event also demonstrated another string to digital learning’s bow – it can have an extraordinary reach that helps engage thousands of future technology stars wherever they are based.

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Serious about STEM

Since 2017, Digital Explorers events – run by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to bring young people together to learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers − have been held face to face.

Hundreds of TCS volunteers, working with the Engineering Development Trust (EDT) and social enterprise MyKindaFuture, have engaged thousands of young people aged between 12 and 17 with topics from artificial intelligence to the Internet of Things at events including talks from industry speakers and careers coaching.

Last year alone, Digital Explorers reached pupils in Bristol, Manchester and Edinburgh. The scheme both helps students from under-represented communities and plays a part in tackling a serious skills gap.

It’s vital work – 60% of tech companies in the UK are struggling to fill vacancies, while STEM careers continue to experience shortages of women and diverse talent. But the arrival of the pandemic forced a rethink.

“When COVID emerged, we were in a real quandary,” Yogesh Chauhan, TCS’ Director of Corporate Sustainability UK&I, recalls. “With lockdown, we were aware that all this was about to come to a dramatic halt – impacting life chances.”

 

 

 

 
 
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Virtual solution

This rethink involved creating an experience for students that was as good as – if not better than – what they would have found at a physical Digital Explorers event.

TCS’ experience in virtual education and its iON Digital Glass Room collaborative learning platform, which had been made freely available to schools during lockdowns, provided a solid base to work from. But many of the live events and activities still had to be rebuilt from scratch and it was unclear how the pressures and disruption of COVID-19 on work and family life would affect this.

It was all made possible by an agile approach and willing volunteers.

“We had around 100 TCS volunteers in the UK alone,” says Camilla Carlslund, Corporate Sustainability Manager at TCS, who has overseen the Virtual Digital Explorers events. “We made it easier for them at a busy time by enabling them to help a little bit whenever they could − not necessarily by taking a full day out of their calendars.”

Flexible and inspiring

This flexible approach was also built into the schedules of the students, who were encouraged to prepare tasks and content before the events, and able to catch up on modules at a convenient time afterwards.

“I had feedback from a number of families with only one laptop in the house,” Carlslund says. “They said the flexibility was so helpful because they could take it in turns to catch up on the programmes. One mother said she did the modules herself once her son had gone to bed. She said he had talked about the videos inspiring him.”