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Summer camp tackles Australia's tech skills shortage
Thu, 11th Jan 2024

While their peers were at the beach savouring the summer holidays, 160 Year 11 and 12 students from across the country chose to be in Sydney and Melbourne, engaged in a deeply immersive and advanced technology programme covering disciplines like generative artificial intelligence, cyber security, coding, and cryptography. This event unfolding from 6-15 of January this year is the 10-day residential "summer computer science camp", an innovative expression of Grok Academy's National Computer Science School (NCSS).

The program has run at universities for 28 years and is currently delivered in partnership with UNSW (Sydney) and the University of Melbourne. It has support from iconic Australian businesses, including Airwallex, Atlassian, Australian Signals Directorate, Commonwealth Bank, Dolby, Google, Macquarie Group, NAB, Optiver, Telstra, Westpac and WiseTech Global. Many of these companies host site visits for the pupils, giving them first-hand experiences that go beyond theory.

Apart from these industrial immersions, participants partake in a range of activities, including a lock-picking masterclass simulating hackers' techniques, mock job interviews, lectures, lab work, and team projects. The programme keeps things on the side of fun with trivia and scavenger hunt sessions too. Dr James Curran, CEO and Director of Grok Academy explains that their relentless initiatives stem from the understanding of the influential role Australia’s education system can wield in stemming the country’s digital and cyber security skills shortage.

A report commissioned by the Tech Council of Australia and Accenture in 2022 forecasted a shortfall of 186,000 Australian tech workers by 2030. Addressing this deficit could add around $A36 billion annually to Australia’s GDP. "We believe that establishing a solid computer science understanding and core skills from a child’s early learning years is vital to shore up our future economy,” asserts Dr. Curran.

Since its inception in 1996, NCSS has been gathering talented young Australians to enhance and encourage their tech skills outside of school hours with its summer programme. At the same time, the ed-tech charity has rolled out its digital skills e-learning platform to assist teachers saddled with delivering the Digital Technology curriculum. Last year, Grok's online resources were utilised by 209,000 Australian pupils and 6,000 teachers in 3,400 schools.

Testimonies from past graduates reveal the programme's impact: last year, 78% of attendees admitted their interest in tertiary computer science study was amplified because of their experiences. "NCSS was a catalyst for many of my decisions going into university and ultimately my career path," shares Orlando Lee, an 18-year-old 2023 graduate who now starts his first-year of computer science at UNSW.

Australian tech billionaire Richard White, CEO of WiseTech Global, lauds the initiative and participating corporate entities for their support in the NCSS Summer School programme. "This programme is a chance for industry leaders to engage directly with students and teachers already investing in advanced digital literacy skills and learning," he says, highlighting the opportunity to discuss job security, high remuneration, fast career progressions and other perks related to working in high-tech businesses.

Dr. Curran concludes, "We’re immensely grateful to all our sponsors making this year’s summer school a reality. By giving this 2024 cohort of 160 students a glimpse into life as a computer scientist, they might go on to spark a brighter future for our nation."