Pioneering programme to tackle digital poverty will create jobs for young people

A pioneering programme to tackle digital poverty in one of Sheffield’s most disadvantaged areas is to create opportunities for young people to learn valuable tech skills and develop rewarding careers. The Dryden project aims to deliver low-cost, safe internet access to 360 homes on a council estate in Southey Green to improve access to public services online and empower people to lift themselves out of poverty.

The project is being led by the David and Jane Richards Family Foundation, a local charity, and the youth and community services provider SY-NC (Sheffield Youth Neighbourhoods and Communities) with supporters including Councillor Jane Dunn, Digital Poverty Alliance, Northern Powerhouse Partnership, Pine Media, Sheffield Churches Council for Community Care, Sheffield City Council and the University of Sheffield.

Pine Media, a Sheffield-based internet service provider, is installing a full-fibre network at the estate and is creating a number of roles for trainee field services technicians. They will work under the supervision of experienced technicians, running cables, fixing blockages and developing skills in fibre-optic engineering. The trainees will work towards becoming qualified technicians in a sector with a skills shortage and a growing demand for experienced workers.

Ben Charig, strategy and planning manager at Pine Media, said: “We are looking for people with practical problem-solving skills, resourcefulness and the ability to work as team players, keep their wits about them and maintain a safe and tidy workplace.

“Our industry is growing and internet service providers are generally struggling to recruit and retain good people. Fibre will be around for decades and will need maintenance. People who become skilled and efficient fibre jointers can expect to earn around £35,000 a year and potentially significantly more if they run their own fibre cabling and civil engineering companies.

“These are great opportunities and we are excited to be taking part in this pioneering project to tackle digital poverty.”

Technology entrepreneur David Richards, co-founder of the David and Jane Richards Family Foundation and data software company WANdisco plc, said: “The Dryden project will empower people to lift themselves out of poverty by providing a low-cost and safe way into the digital world, opening up opportunities for education and employment, improving access to public services and providing a portal for useful and trustworthy information.

“We need ambitious young people from the estate to help us build and maintain the new network and encourage anyone who is interested to get in touch. It could launch new tech careers and lead to new company startups in Southey Green.”

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