Research published recently by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, commissioned by Google, shows that the digital economy is around 40 per cent larger than previous official estimates suggest. The report states that around 270,000 companies form the digital economy, that digital employers are hiring 15 per cent more than those who are not, and that there is a clear economic imperative for developing digital skills for jobs, growth and innovation.
While these findings come as no surprise to those of us campaigning for digital literacy, they do serve as a timely reminder of the importance of digital citizenship as we at Young Rewired State gear up for our fifth Festival of Code. Now underway, the Festival will see around 1,000 young people across the UK at 50 different host centres given open government data from which they'll get to work coding digital prototype websites, games and apps. At the end of the week, they'll travel to Birmingham's Custard Factory where they'll come together with their mentors and supervisors (and plenty of pizza!) for a showcase weekend where their creations will be judged by a panel of elite judges.
This year's Festival of Code is a milestone for us as a not-for-profit coding movement. What began as a network of 50 coders in 2009 has undergone rapid expansion and we're now a network of around 1,000 programmers and designers. The level of interest from young programmers has soared year on year and we're now steadily developing our offering overseas. In June 2013, the first international hackathon in New York took place and, later this year, we'll also host events in Berlin, San Francisco and Johannesburg. We've also established Young Rewired State Hyperlocal to facilitate hack events at a grassroots level in towns and cities, extending our reach as far as possible.
The core goal underpinning Young Rewired State's activities is to mainstream coding as a discipline to empower bedroom programmers and demonstrate to decision-makers the importance of equipping the next generation with adequate skills for employment in the digital economy. While it goes without saying that many young people may have no desire to enter careers in tech, we risk failing them if we allow them to leave education without the basic skills required for 21st century employment. In a booming digital economy which is having as big an impact on traditional industries as it is on start-ups and software companies, not teaching young people the right skills risks blinkering their outlook and restricting their options.
The level of creativity unearthed when young people are provided with the infrastructure and know-how to produce technology is huge - come to any of our events and you'll witness a palpable buzz as they innovate and collaborate. It's as much a campaign about open data as it is coding, too. Introducing the next generation to open data in a creative and purposeful way enables young people to cut their teeth working on real-life challenges.
By way of example, a previous Festival of Code creation includes the government energy league website GovSpark - the prototype for which was created by (then) 16-year-old Isabell Long. Spotting that there was a government pledge to reduce departmental energy usage and that Whitehall departments are now publishing data on their energy usage, Long created a Whitehall energy league. It was was later spotted by officials at Number 10 and the website now monitors and compares government departments' energy usage to encourage them to adopt new ways of working.
We look forward to seeing what comes from the Festival of Code 2013 and remain committed to building our community and nurturing the next generation of creators and innovators.
Emma Mulqueeny is CEO and founder of Young Rewired State. For more information on Young Rewired State and the Festival of code visit: www.youngrewiredstate.org.uk. You may also want to check out our interview with Emma from Digital 2013.