Sparking and supporting young people’s interest in technology is how our future economy will thrive. But how is this done?

This week, as part of our Business Leaders series, our host Ciaran Connolly speaks with Roger Warnock, Director of The Bytes Project in Belfast.

In the interview, the pair discuss how the charity and technology sectors combine to inspire young people and improve their employability.

To find out more, watch the full interview below or read on for the highlights.

The bytes project: employability for young people in technology

How Does a Charity Inspire Young People in Technology?

Roger Warnock, current Director of Bytes, is passionate about helping vulnerable young people. But how did he get on this path? Believe it or not, it was Roger’s experience in the corporate sector that made him take the leap.

employability and technology for young people

“I had been around the social enterprise sector for 20 years. Prior to that, I ran businesses and was in the corporate world.

“I saw the light, and left the corporate world for all the bad things it is and got into the charity sector.

“I worked with Young Foundations and The Prince’s Trust over the years, which got me to where I am now.”

The Bytes Project is a charity that uses technology to work with vulnerable young people, to show them how to get into technology jobs in Northern Ireland.

Explaining how the charity came about, Roger says it has been a core supporter since the nineties, originally helping children throughout The Troubles.

“The Bytes Project has been around since 1993. It came out of a project in the States called Bytes for Bullets. So obviously back in 1993 – we had The Troubles – so it was seen as a model to bring to Northern Ireland to work with vulnerable young people.

“It had a really impressive group of people working with it – Apple was involved in funding the organisation – and it has just gone from there, helping young people get into technology through skills and training.”

Bytes logo
Roger comes from a background in the social enterprise sector. Image credit: Bytes

The Use of Social Innovation

Innovation is how our industries move forward and remain competitive, as Roger states.

“If you think of innovation in the real world, we need that to progress as a society. But the backdraft of that is the social issues that come with it – those young people who don’t get the jobs or have the education – so how do you make it work for them? That’s where social innovation comes in.”

Having worked in the social enterprise sector, Roger states that social innovation is the way forward in developing and deploying effective solutions to challenging social issues.

“I have always been interested in innovation and technology in general. But I always wanted to know how we could use it to solve social issues in Northern Ireland and further afield.

“Social innovation is just a different way of using innovation to solve social issues in society. It is finding new, novel ways of tackling social issues.”

Roger emphasises how social innovation is “totally multisectoral too, which is so important”. Private companies can also take part in boosting young people’s prospects – not just charities.

Social Innovation Through Technology

The Bytes Project conducts social innovation with technology at the forefront. Whether it be teaching insightful classes – or hosting collaborative clubs.

Providing an insight into the ways technology can be used, Roger uses social media as an example.

“Technology can be used in simple ways – like Facebook for young people to express their views. Or teaching young people how to use digital media, to put a video on YouTube that raises awareness of social issues.

“At the moment, we are designing our own technology to develop a platform where we can listen to these voices and see this work. This way, the young people are benefiting from learning valuable skills, and the public are benefiting from valuable content that’s created.”

Through this innovative method, the charity is aiming to reach and empower a wider audience of young people.

As Roger iterates: “We want to use video content to tell people about the Bytes story and for young people to share their stories.”

Bytes graphic
Bytes uses technology to help young people make an impact on the world. Image credit: Bytes

What The Bytes Project Offers

As Roger effortlessly puts it: “Bytes is about inspiring young changemakers to hack their world for good.”

Improving digital skills and social innovation within the community can draw passion and enthusiasm for young people’s future professional lives. Bytes has a large number of programmes suitable for a variety of ages, covering a wide range of areas that young people may be interested in and suited to.

Helping children from as young as 8 years old, The Bytes Project aims to include young people of all abilities and backgrounds.

“We start with young children around age 8 with our Megabytes club – which starts to get them thinking about robotics and coding – all those basics of technology.

“We even have our Girl Code programme, which aims to introduce girls aged 11-16 to tech and computing.”

The charity also offers programmes that are aimed at encouraging cross-community collaboration with young people, through their ‘Peace Bytes’ programme.

The Bytes approach is underpinned with 1:1 mentoring and personal development opportunities, so that young people discover practical and constructive ways forward, availing of qualification and up-skilling opportunities to increase confidence and create positive pathways for their future.

In 2019/20, Bytes engaged directly with more than 1,200 young people in Northern Ireland in a variety of contexts. This work included on-street youth work, schools and youth clubs, homeless hostels, youth justice settings, employment and training programmes, EU PEACE IV Good Relations schemes and smaller, targeting programmes of short term engagement.

To discover more about The Bytes Project and how it can help young people with employability in the tech industry – watch the full Business Leaders interview.
To find out more about charity and its innovative work, check out The Bytes Project’s website.

Challenges Young People Face in Tech

While the allure of a dynamic, well-paying career in tech beckons to many young people, the path toward entry isn’t paved with just code and innovation. Here’s a deeper dive into some key challenges young aspirants face:

1. Navigating the Digital Divide:

  • Unequal access to technology and the internet: Not everyone has a computer, reliable internet connection, or even basic digital literacy skills. This inequity creates a significant barrier for those from low-income communities or rural areas.
  • Limited exposure to coding, robotics, and tech-related activities: Without early exposure to technology and its possibilities, young minds may not develop the initial spark or confidence to pursue tech careers.

2. Finding the Right Mentors and Guidance:

  • Lack of accessible mentorship: Finding the right mentor, especially for students from underrepresented communities, can be challenging. Without guidance from experienced professionals, they may struggle to navigate career paths, skills development, and networking opportunities.
  • Limited awareness of diverse role models: The tech industry often suffers from a lack of visible diversity, making it difficult for young people from marginalized backgrounds to envision themselves succeeding in the field.

3. Overcoming Gender and Racial Disparities:

  • Gender gap in STEM fields: Women continue to be significantly underrepresented in tech, facing biases and stereotypes that discourage them from pursuing careers in the field.
  • Racial and ethnic disparities: People of color are also disproportionately underrepresented in the tech industry, experiencing systemic barriers and a lack of access to opportunities.

4. Keeping Up with the Ever-Changing Landscape:

  • Rapidly evolving skillsets: Technology is constantly changing, demanding continuous learning and skill development. Young people need to be adaptable and stay updated with the latest trends and technologies to remain competitive.
  • Fear of failure and imposter syndrome: The fast-paced and competitive nature of the tech industry can lead to anxiety and self-doubt, particularly for young people who may feel like they don’t belong or aren’t qualified enough.

5. Navigating Financial and Practical Hurdles:

  • Cost of education and training: Bootcamps, coding courses, and even university degrees can be expensive, creating financial barriers for entry.
  • Lack of work-life balance and demanding work culture: The notorious “crunch time” and long hours associated with some tech jobs can be daunting for young people seeking a healthy work-life balance.

Remember, while these challenges exist, they don’t define the path to success in tech. Through targeted initiatives, inclusive practices, and accessible resources, we can bridge the digital divide, dismantle barriers, and empower young people from all backgrounds to thrive in this dynamic and rewarding field.

Actionable Tips for Overcoming Challenges:

  • Advocate for equal access to technology and digital literacy programs.
  • Promote mentorship initiatives and diverse role models in the tech industry.
  • Create scholarships and financial aid programs to support underprivileged students.
  • Foster a culture of inclusion and belonging within tech companies.
  • Provide ongoing training and skill development opportunities for all levels.

By acknowledging and addressing these challenges, we can pave the way for a more inclusive and diverse tech industry where young talent from all backgrounds can reach their full potential.

The tech landscape is a perpetual storm of innovation, birthing new trends that reshape not just industries, but the very fabric of the future of work. As a young person aspiring to carve your path in this dynamic arena, staying ahead of the curve is crucial. So, let’s dive into some emerging trends and their potential impact on your employability:

1. Artificial Intelligence (AI): Rise of the Collaborators, Not Competitors:

  • AI is automating routine tasks, displacing some jobs but creating new ones: Think data analysis, customer service, and manufacturing. Embrace reskilling and upskilling opportunities to land jobs in AI development, ethical oversight, and human-AI collaboration.
  • AI is enhancing existing professions: Doctors using AI-powered diagnostics, marketers leveraging AI for hyper-personalized campaigns – prepare to integrate AI into your skillset for a career boost.

2. Automation: Embrace the Robot Revolution:

  • Repetitive tasks across industries are being automated, transforming job landscapes: While assembly lines and data entry might see changes, new roles emerge in automation design, robotics engineering, and maintenance.
  • Focus on human-centric skills like creativity, problem-solving, and complex decision-making: These will be invaluable in overseeing and interacting with automated systems.

3. Big Data and Analytics: Where Insights Rule:

  • Companies are awash in data, and skilled analysts are in high demand: Hone your data wrangling, visualization, and storytelling skills to turn numbers into valuable insights that drive business decisions.
  • Expect the rise of “citizen data scientists” with basic analytics skills: Learn data manipulation and basic modeling to enhance your overall value proposition.

4. Cybersecurity: Guardians of the Digital Age:

  • As our world becomes increasingly connected, so does the threat of cyberattacks: Cybersecurity professionals are in high demand to protect critical infrastructure and sensitive data.
  • Develop expertise in threat detection, incident response, and network security to become a digital fortress builder.

5. The Blockchain Revolution: Decentralized Disruption:

  • Blockchain technology, the backbone of cryptocurrencies, is finding applications beyond finance: Think supply chain management, secure identities, and even voting systems.
  • Learn about blockchain development, smart contracts, and distributed ledger technology to be part of this transformative wave.

Remember, the future of work is not about fearing technology, but harnessing its power. By being adaptable, embracing a growth mindset, and focusing on developing in-demand skills, you can navigate these trends and become a sought-after talent in the evolving tech landscape.

Pro Tip:

  • Stay updated on emerging trends through industry publications, conferences, and online resources.
  • Build your personal brand by showcasing your tech skills and interests on platforms like LinkedIn and GitHub.
  • Network with professionals in your desired field to gain insights and potential opportunities.

By mastering these skills and staying ahead of the curve, you’ll be well-positioned to not just find your place in the future of work, but thrive in it. Don’t be a passive observer; become an active participant in shaping your own tech-powered future.

Mastering the Soft Skills for Tech Success

While technical prowess is the engine that drives the tech world, it’s the soft skills that act as the steering wheel, navigating you towards career success and fulfillment. These essential non-technical abilities are often overlooked, but they’re what truly set you apart from the crowd and unlock your full potential in any tech field.

1. Communication: Your Voice in the Digital Chorus:

  • Clarity is king: Whether presenting complex ideas to clients or collaborating with colleagues, express yourself clearly and concisely.
  • Active listening is an active asset: Give full attention to understand not just words, but nuances and underlying needs.
  • Written communication matters: Hone your writing skills to craft compelling emails, reports, and documentation.

2. Teamwork: Building Bridges, Not Walls:

  • Embrace collaboration: Tech projects rarely exist in silos. Learn to work effectively within teams, respecting diverse perspectives and fostering synergy.
  • Conflict resolution is key: Navigate disagreements constructively, finding solutions that benefit the team and project goals.
  • Leading by example: Step up and take initiative, motivating and inspiring others to achieve their best.

3. Problem-Solving: Untangling the Tech Knots:

  • Think critically and creatively: Don’t just follow instructions; analyze situations, identify root causes, and develop innovative solutions.
  • Embrace the iterative approach: Be prepared to adapt and refine your solutions as you learn and gather feedback.
  • Learn from failures: Mistakes are inevitable, but treat them as stepping stones to hone your problem-solving skills.

4. Critical Thinking: Questioning Your Way to Success:

  • Analyze information objectively: Don’t accept everything at face value; question assumptions and evaluate data with a discerning eye.
  • Challenge the status quo: Think outside the box and propose alternative solutions or improvements.
  • Anticipate potential problems: Proactive thinking helps you identify and address issues before they derail progress.

Remember, soft skills are not just soft; they are the bedrock of your professional success. Invest in their development through workshops, online courses, and real-world practice. Showcase these skills in your resume, cover letters, and interviews.

Beyond the 9-to-5: Exploring Career Freedom in Tech

The tech industry isn’t just about climbing the corporate ladder; it’s a land of boundless possibilities when it comes to charting your own career path. If the traditional office environment doesn’t resonate, fear not! Here’s a glimpse into some exciting alternative career paths you can pursue in tech:

1. Freelancing: Your Skills, Your Rules:

  • Become your own boss: Set your own rates, projects, and work hours. Enjoy the flexibility and autonomy of being your own employer.
  • Build a diverse portfolio: Work with various clients and projects, broadening your skillset and experience.
  • Network and build your brand: Establish yourself as an expert in your niche by actively connecting with clients and showcasing your work online.

2. Consulting: Sharing Your Expertise:

  • Leverage your experience to provide strategic advice and solutions to businesses.
  • Work on short-term or long-term projects across diverse industries.
  • Enjoy the freedom to choose clients and projects that align with your interests and expertise.

3. Entrepreneurship: Building Your Tech Empire:

  • Turn your innovative idea into a reality. Develop a tech product or service, build a team, and watch your vision come to life.
  • Experience the thrill of leadership and the challenges of scaling a business.
  • Be prepared for the ever-evolving landscape and the risks and rewards that come with entrepreneurship.

4. Remote Work: Location Independence Unleashed:

  • Escape the cubicle and work from anywhere in the world with a stable internet connection.
  • Maintain a healthy work-life balance with flexible schedules and freedom from commutes.
  • Connect with colleagues virtually and leverage technology to stay productive and engaged.

Remember, each alternative path has its unique pros and cons, and the best choice depends on your skills, career goals, and lifestyle preferences.

Young Tech Trailblazers: Inspiring Stories of Early Success

The tech world is brimming with success stories, and young people are increasingly claiming their place at the forefront of innovation. Here are a few inspiring examples to fuel your own tech aspirations:

1. Code with a Conscience: Shubham Banerjee, 15-year-old AI for Social Good Developer:

  • Faced with water scarcity in his village, Shubham developed an AI-powered irrigation system that optimizes water usage for farmers.
  • His invention won him the Google Science Fair and garnered global attention, highlighting the power of youth-driven tech solutions.

2. From Gamer to Game Changer: Evelyn Miralles, 19-year-old Cybersecurity Expert:

  • Evelyn honed her hacking skills through ethical gaming and competitions, landing a cybersecurity internship at Microsoft at just 17.
  • Today, she’s a sought-after security consultant, inspiring young women to pursue careers in cybersecurity.

3. Building Bridges with Bots: Ananya Dwivedi, 16-year-old Conversational AI Developer:

  • Ananya created a chatbot that bridges the communication gap between doctors and patients in rural India, translating crucial medical information.
  • Her work showcases the potential of tech to address social and cultural barriers, earning her recognition at prestigious conferences.

4. Robotics Whiz Kid: Pranjal Sharma, 18-year-old Automated Prosthetic Hand Inventor:

  • Pranjal developed a low-cost, 3D-printed prosthetic hand using Arduino and AI, making it accessible for amputees in underserved communities.
  • His invention won him the James Dyson Award and demonstrates the power of empathy and tech to improve lives.

5. From App Ideas to Applause: Benyamin Ahmed, 11-year-old iOS Developer:

  • Benyamin developed a coding app for kids inspired by his own dyslexia challenges, earning him an Apple scholarship and becoming the youngest person to give a TED Talk.
  • His story showcases the incredible potential of young minds to disrupt and innovate within the tech landscape.

Remember, these are just a few shining examples of how young people are shaping the future of tech. You too can follow in their footsteps by identifying your passions, developing your skills, and embracing the boundless opportunities that await.

Further Inspiration:

  • Check out online platforms like “TeenTech Founders” and “Hackaday” to discover more inspiring case studies of young tech pioneers.
  • Connect with youth-focused tech initiatives and educational programs to find mentors, resources, and collaboration opportunities.
  • Share your own tech journey and aspirations on social media to connect with a like-minded community and inspire others.

By fostering a supportive environment and celebrating young talent, we can ensure that the tech industry continues to be a fertile ground for innovation and positive change, driven by the next generation of bold trailblazers.

Employability For Young People In Technology: Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: I’m young and have no tech experience. Can I still break into the field?

Absolutely! The tech industry is constantly evolving, and many opportunities exist for newcomers. Leverage online resources, bootcamps, and mentorship programs to develop your skills. Don’t be afraid to start small and learn from your mistakes.

Q: I’m not sure what tech career path is right for me. How can I figure it out?

Explore different online courses, volunteer for tech projects, and connect with professionals in various fields. Talk to mentors, shadow different roles, and discover what aligns with your interests and skills.

Q: What are the biggest challenges young people face in the tech industry?

Unequal access to technology, limited mentorship opportunities, and gender and racial disparities can be barriers. However, initiatives and resources are actively working to address these challenges, and building a diverse and inclusive tech workforce is a priority.

Q: How can I stand out from the crowd as a young tech candidate?

Develop strong soft skills like communication, teamwork, and problem-solving. Build a portfolio of personal projects, actively participate in online communities, and network with professionals to showcase your passion and potential.

Q: Where can I find more resources and support for young people in tech?

Check out the resources listed in the article, including online platforms, bootcamps, job boards, and mentorship programs. Additionally, seek out organizations like Girls Who Code, BlackGirlsCode, and NSBE for community and guidance.

Employability For Young People In Technology: Conclusion

The tech industry is a dynamic and rewarding field brimming with opportunities for young people. Embrace the challenges, leverage available resources, and stay passionate about learning and innovation. Don’t be afraid to dream big, connect with like-minded individuals, and chart your own unique path to success.

Remember, age is just a number; your talent, dedication, and drive are what truly define your potential in the ever-evolving world of tech. So, go forth, young trailblazer, and code the future you envision!

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