Can you help young offenders learn to code?

by Andy Mayer
Posted on 17 November 2013
read time: 3 minutes

Having recently watched my 14-year old son, Joel, successfully teach himself coding skills in 6 months, with little input from me, I’m curious to know if these online resources, along with intensive support and mentoring from an entrepreneur/SME, can be used to help marginalised young people gain digital skills and access new career opportunities.

Young offenders often have had a difficult relationship with school and therefore don’t have any qualifications, despite being bright and highly capable. As a result, it’s virtually impossible for them to find a stimulating career after they’ve left custody, one that will sustain them, both financially and intellectually.

A typical example

For example, Tom is a young offender released into the community at 19 after a number of years in custody. At school he was in the top set for maths, but dropped out at 14 and therefore has no GCSEs to his name. What Tom needs is work experience and inspiration, but the qualifications he gained while in prison are insufficient for him to get on an apprenticeship. The only legitimate work option Tom now has is minimum-wage factory work (£100/week).

What Tom needs is work experience and inspiration, but the qualifications he gained while in prison are insufficient for him to get on an apprenticeship

But it's obvious to Tom that there is no future in factory work as the bosses only care about the bottom line. He feels that workers will eventually either be replaced by machines, or production outsourced overseas. There’s certainly no room for learning new skills. Tom is a bright and entrepreneurial guy who wants to be in control of his own future, but the only successful business people he’s met so far in life are drug dealers.

Yoomee pilot

Tom is a real guy from Sheffield, and I have just taken him on at Yoomee. We're offering him a 12 month apprenticeship to teach him digital skills and for us to explore the possibility of developing a bespoke apprenticeship for others. We've got the support of the Sheffield Youth Offending Service (YOS) and the Forge Youth Network. It's only costing us minimum wage at the moment as we haven’t got any outside funding yet. Our plan is to learn from Tom how to roll out this approach an a bigger scale to help more people.

Why bother?

My motivation for this adventure is twofold; firstly, I believe digital skills can be used for positive social change to improve individuals' lives. And secondly, there is a real economic benefit to our local community in reducing crime and reoffending rates and increasing digital skills in the workforce.

Want to get involved?

I’m looking for connections, funding, expertise, resources, accommodation, volunteer mentors, partnerships or any other ideas and pointers that people can offer.

I've already had over 30 responses from some amazing people and am confident that we'll get something bigger off the ground. If you'd like to help with this project then please do email me at [email protected] or leave a comment below to join the conversation.

(Update February 2014: Three months later I wrote a blog post with an update on what we've learnt)

Related links

Code Avengers
Code School

Posted on 17 November 2013 - By Andy Mayer
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