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Companies should collaborate to encourage young people to enter careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (Stem), according to vice-president of application delivery at CA Technologies, Ritu Mahandru.
Many companies are now creating their own initiatives to promote Stem-based careers, but Mahandru claimed they could do more together.
Mahandru said: “Everyone does their own individual thing, but I think when people come together it creates much more of a movement.”
CA technologies recently ran a “Step into Stem” event, and worked with O2 and British Airways to explain to year 10 pupils what it is like to work in Stem-related jobs.
As a result of the event, 63% of the participating 160 pupils claimed their opinion of Stem careers had changed, and Mahandru explained if firms were “collaborating more together” further awareness would be raised about the different career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and maths.
“If anything we’d like more businesses to sponsor events like this, I think there was a lot of power in having three businesses together doing it and three well-known brands that people know. It would be really great if other businesses joined in, if we could do more like that,” Mahandru explained.
More than 80% of the pupils claimed they left the event excited about future Stem job opportunities, and now know what they should be studying if they want a career in Stem.
“We think it’s really important because, as you can tell, there’s going to be a bit of a shortage of skills in IT as we go forward – and we want younger people to enter into these careers,” said Mahandru.
“Year 10 is the first year of GCSE, so getting them really young to start thinking about what careers in Stem mean – what it is really like to be part of a software business or work in O2 or a technology company, or work in a business like British Airways where software drives so much of what they do.”
The event was run in association with Learning to Work, an organisation which runs events to help young people get a better idea of what life in the workplace is like.
Closing the skills gap
Participating organisations wanted the event to encourage more students to enter Stem careers and close the IT skills gap.
Half of the students involved said they are now more likely to pursue a Stem career, and Mahandru pointed out the GCSE age group is a good place to start raising awareness.
“Personally I think we could even start younger, but I think where we are right now with the initiative that we have – this is a good way to start,” said Mahandru.
“Before children choose their A-levels, before children start narrowing down their degree level, having an awareness of what the opportunities are and what we mean when we say software drives businesses, I think they begin to get a feeling for that.”
Mahandru explained part of the day was using practical illustrations of everyday technology as an example of how important Stem careers are for everyday life, to help eliminate the disconnect some young people have when it comes to the foundations of technology.
“Giving examples like that to children of that age, they begin to understand what software does and that software drives businesses,” Mahandru said.
“Whatever you’re trying to do – if it’s makeup, it’s dresses, it’s shoes – you’re going to be looking at how you’re going to use software to drive your commercial conversation with your customer in any business you look at nowadays.”
The event had more boys in attendance than girls, and Mahandru said it was important to make sure more women are finding jobs in technology to act as role models for younger women.
“As a parent of teenage girls I think what they need are role models, and I think they need to see and need to hear from more women in Stem careers that are showing the different kinds of roles that there are,” said Mahandru.
“There’s a lot of different roles in the technology side, but also there’s a lot of different ways to use software to get data and get the best out of data so with girls, we want to show them that you don’t just have to be a coder, there are lots of opportunities in software businesses.”
But as Matt Hancock, minister for the Cabinet Office, argued at a recent government event, Mahandru believes coding is still vital for the future of technology, even for digital businesses.
“The coding aspect is absolutely the key to it all, we need developers, we need coders, we’re going to need lots of them. I think though that we will have to start to address the other periphery things as well because they’re really, really important,” Mahandru said.
“Whilst getting good code out is really important, it’s also really important to design it well. We’ve started at the right point because coding is the key to it but you will start to see a lot more focus on other roles.”