In a challenging era, global technological giant CGI’s new learning initiatives aim to create post-Covid opportunities for all

As the coronavirus  spread across the globe, and Italy then Spain went into lockdown it became clear to many that the UK might have to follow suit.

A few companies saw the signs early and began to make plans for people to work from home with some, like global technology giant CGI, so far ahead of the game that one third of their workforce were already working remotely several weeks before the UK went into lockdown in March.

Other industries were not as well prepared, either because of the nature of their work or because they didn’t have the means or  knowledge to employ remote working.
It is now clear that many sectors will be very heavily impacted and unemployment is already spiralling.  School pupils, too, have been subject to major disruption and face an uncertain future as jobs and employment prospects disappear. 

Some workers and pupils, especially those without access to digital technology and skills, will be particularly hard hit and this is why CGI is keen to reach the most vulnerable to help them stay afloat in a post-Covid world.

Through their community engagement programme, the company already has a focus on disadvantaged groups and this will continue and be strengthened further over the next year, according to CGI’s Director of Corporate Responsibility, 
Philippa Green. 

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The company has almost 6,000 UK staff (called members) and she said they were keen to become involved and do what they could to help society recover.
Before the pandemic hit, part of CGI’s community programme which focuses on supporting the next generation, was working in schools to interest pupils in careers in science, technology, engineering and maths.

This work involved hosting STEM camps which engaged students across the UK in fun STEM related activities. The physical camps were cancelled when schools shut their doors but the organisation quickly pivoted and put a version online to help children, parents and schools through the lockdown.

“We started doing it as an immediate response to the situation,” said Green. 
“Like many other people we thought it was going to be a short term project and children would be going back to school fairly quickly but it is now apparent that it is going to be longer than first expected so we are trying to pivot to the next stage.”

The content will remain online but unfortunately may not be of much use to pupils without a good digital connection or devices at home. 

Educationalists have already raised fears that this group of already disadvantaged children will suffer most because of the lockdown and CGI is keen to see how it can help reach them.

“Many children will not have been in school for six months which is a very long time. For youngsters that’s a lifetime!” said Green.  

CGI supports many organisations working with vulnerable and disadvantaged children and is working with them to reach those who do not have access to technology. 
The physical camps had often been targeted at the most vulnerable children in society and one of the company’s last events in Glasgow was in a special educational needs school.

One of the other aspects of the company’s community programme is mentoring, when members go into an event in school to give older children career advice and an idea of what working life is like.

“Their parents and their grandparents may not have worked and so the children may not have any idea about working life,” said Green.  “Events have been successful but we would normally do that in a school setting in a hall where our members can have one to one chats with pupils and that is obviously tricky to do at the moment.”

The company has started to record career mentoring videos to support some community groups.

In the meantime there are still some new STEM from Home themes to come online before July and these will be released weekly until the end of June.

Another group at the front of minds at CGI are those currently working through CGI’s graduate apprenticeships at Glasgow Caledonian and Edinburgh Napier Universities. “We are clear that these individuals are key to the future of our business” says Green. 

“Mark East and Maria Whittingham in our student recruitment team are working hard to ensure they have practical support whilst also thinking about the solutions for future student recruitment at this very important stage in their careers.”

Elsewhere, CGI, which supports The Glasgow Times’ Streets Ahead initiative, continues to encourage its members to fundraise, with efforts being moved online. Members are asked to nominate regional charities for the company’s charities fund whilst in recent weeks they have been at work fundraising for a foodbank to help those people hardest hit. 

Members also still have the opportunity to nominate local community sports teams for kit sponsorship. It is hoped this will come into its own as group physical exercise is increasingly encouraged and people get the chance to re-establish important bonds.

RETRAINING WILL ENSURE NO-ONE IF LEFT BEHIND

CGI has been in a better position than many companies to weather the pandemic lockdown and, as a result, is keen to help society recover post-Covid.

“In February the world changed but some communities and industries are more impacted than others so it feels a bit remiss not to refocus our efforts for these areas in particular,” said the company’s Vice President Lindsay McGranaghan for Scotland.

An important part of CGI’s work is its community programme and the company is now looking at how it can help communities and schools post-Covid.

“We do a number of things around community benefit but we may have to rethink what we have been doing historically and tailor some of that to meet the impact of Covid,” said McGranaghan.

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“We need to think about who is going to be most hard hit by the pandemic from an education perspective and whether we tailor our work to be more focused on the vulnerable children, as well as the industries impacted such as those where there have been quite heavy redundancies.”

Technology and technological skills have proved to be an immense boon during the pandemic lockdown and it is quickly becoming apparent that those who do not have access to technology, or know how to use it properly, are at a distinct disadvantage in the 21st century.

McGranaghan feels that as a technology company, CGI is well placed to help both children and workers without these skills and could help retrain those in danger of being left behind. 

The company has already been working with the Wise Group in Glasgow to help retrain long term unemployed people in IT skills and is now wondering if this could be extended to impacted industries and newly unemployed people.

“We are looking at things like retraining opportunities,” she said. “We have been reasonably resilient in the technology industry during Covid just because of the nature of the work we do  and the question is whether we could put out a hand to different industries during what is going to be a difficult time?

“We want to look at how we can do this through our community programme.

“I think there is something there not only in terms of supporting the local authorities that we already work with, but also how we help with the recovery process. 
“Giving back to the local community is very important to us.”

 

  • This article was brought to you in partnership with CGI as part of the Herald's STEM campaign