An award-winning education programme targeting digital careers has expanded to three Thames Valley schools, after its initial implementation at UTC Heathrow.

The three additional University Technical Colleges (UTCs), UTC Reading, UTC Swindon, and UTC Oxfordshire, will now offer the Digital Futures Programme.

Conceived in close collaboration with digital infrastructure industry employers, the programme is unprecedented in UK schooling.

Catering to 14 to 19-year-olds, the programme provides knowledge and skills for working in digital infrastructure careers, such as network cabling and data centres.

Richard Oosterom from Digital Realty said: "We see it as a way to contribute to the education of our current generation, to promote the data centre sector, which is increasingly important for the digital economy, and as a source of development for our staff. It’s a win-win for all.”

Implemented by UTC Heathrow and its employer partners in 2021, the programme earned recognition with three worldwide accolades, including the Datacloud Global Awards' Education and Employment Project of the Year.

Industry collaborators contribute to the curriculum development as well as provide employer-led projects, masterclasses and skills workshops.

The programme has proved fruitful, with the initial graduates securing apprenticeships with partner industries.

It is helping to fill a skills shortage in the digital infrastructure industry.

The Activate Learning Education Trust (ALET) and its partners are educating students in these skills to fortify the industry.

Head of employer engagement at ALET, Mike Halliday, said: "ALET is playing a critical part in building a skills pipeline essential to the UK economy.

"The Digital Futures Programme represents a unique opportunity for industry to engage at a programmatic level in transforming the lives of younger people."

The programme’s extension was announced on January 26 at an event attended by nine industry partners at UTC Reading.

These specialised secondary schools and sixth forms focus on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects as well as providing a core curriculum of English, maths, and science.

ALET CEO, Jo Harper, added: "The Digital Futures Programme is focused on equipping students with the skills to succeed in the digital industries, bringing together companies which are serious about acting to address the skills shortage with STEM-focused schools with specialisms in digital, engineering and science prepared to forge a new path for their students.”

Paul Hood, COO, Yondr, said: "The Digital Futures Programme will help us bridge the talent gap that we currently have and build a platform for the future as the industry continues to grow exponentially across the globe. As a company our people also learn from the experience and enjoy every moment of working with the students.”