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Teachers need more help to cover all aspects of the technology industry and encourage more children into science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem), says Tina Götschi, head of computer science at the Ada National College for Digital Skills.
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Speaking at an event celebrating the film Hidden Figures, which depicts the struggles of some of the black women who worked for NASA in the 1960s, Götschi said the industry needed to collaborate with schools if it wanted more young people, particularly girls, in the Stem industries of the future.
“We need help,” she said. “As a teacher, I cannot teach the breadth of what computer science is nowadays and I need help.”
For years, industry bodies have argued that the technology industry should work with schools and education providers to educate young people about what tech careers entail and what skills are needed to fill roles.
Götschi said technology firms should invest more time and effort into making sure children are aware of Stem careers. “We have the next cohort of people who are going to be your interns, your heads, your apprentices,” she said.
But often parents could stand in the way of such a career for their children, said Götschi, and parents and teachers were not always aware of what a Stem career can entail.
The IT industry often suffers from negative stereotyping of the types of people who pursue a career in technology, and parents often dissuade their daughters from looking into the industry, fearing it would not suit them.
Malia Reeves, regional director of Forward Ladies, encouraged parents to “start with your daughters” to encourage them into Stem careers.
She said there was a common misconception among young girls that Stem subjects were too difficult, but more and more roles require the use of technology. Reeves pointed out that Stem jobs were no more difficult than the roles parents encouraged their daughters to pursue.
“It’s no more difficult to study a Stem subject than it is to do law, or sports, or a language,” she said.
Read more about diversity in the technology industry
But despite efforts made by organisations to increase gender and ethnic diversity in companies, changes are not happening as quickly as expected.
Caroline Taylor, CMO for IBM Global Markets, said encouraging more women into the industry would help to change the gender landscape more quickly.
“If we could encourage far more women and girls to engage in Stem careers, they could be the thing that makes the difference,” she said.
There is currently a skills gap in the UK, with many technology firms claiming that graduates do not have the skills to fill roles. It has been claimed that a lack of basic digital skills among the UK population costs the economy about £63bn a year.
More and more jobs require technology skills, and Taylor said employers should focus on making sure children have these skills for the future, or the skills gap will widen.
“The reality is that everybody pretty much needs to have these skills,” she said. “We have to help children understand and we have to help teachers to help children to understand that Stem is embedded in the lives they want to have in the future.”
Taylor also pointed out how more forms of entertainment such as Hidden Figures could help to educate and encourage more people into Stem.
“I think it’s an incredibly powerful story because we don’t live in an equal society,” she said. “If we could just focus on things like Stem, we could help people who are currently being overlooked.”
But despite efforts made by organisations and the media to encourage a more diverse workforce in the tech industry, many still believe the Stem sector will not begin to see equality until the men in technology roles begin helping women to penetrate the sector.
Sonia Cyrus, client engagement manager for the IBM Bluemix Garage, said men needed to become advocates for women in tech before the industry could move forward.
“Let’s face it, without men, who are often the decision makers today, without their support, the agenda isn’t going to move forward,” she said.
Many men in the workplace have similar issues to women, including the need for flexibility to look after children or loved ones or the need to look after their physical and mental health. Cyrus said everyone in the industry should be an advocate for encouraging flexibility and diversity to make a better environment for everyone.