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Businesses should help shape graduates, says Hitachi Data Systems COO

Lynn Collier, COO of Hitachi Data Systems, wants businesses to collaborate with educational institutions to ensure young people gain the right skills

The IT industry should work with universities and colleges to ensure graduates leave education with the skills needed for business, according to Lynn Collier, chief operating officer of Hitachi Data Systems UK and Ireland.  

Collier says that the advice given in further education institutions to students, and especially young women, about what roles are available may be out of date, and industry is better placed than careers advisers to provide that information.

“As much as colleges try to encourage young women to study science, technology, engineering and maths [Stem] subjects, to take roles in engineering, very often the career counsellors, the career guidance function, the colleges themselves, don’t necessarily know all of the kinds of roles that might be attractive to young women coming into business,” she says.

The IT industry in Europe is predicted to have 756,000 unfilled digital jobs by 2020, and graduates will need skills that “aren’t necessarily thought about when degrees are constructed”, Collier says.

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Over 80% of young people ask their parents for careers advice, so if parents are ill informed about career choices in technology, then young men and women may be too.

“Parents are guiding them towards what they think are the right kind of roles, and very often they don’t necessarily have the knowledge of what’s possible in industry today,” Collier says.

Gender stereotyping can begin from a young age, and the new curriculum, which requires children from the ages of five to 16 to learn about computing, will help make sure girls are more aware of Stem from a young age.  

Although Collier used to believe the age of 14 was young enough to encourage girls to choose Stem subjects, she now thinks girls younger than this should be presented with role models to show them “more women who are doing jobs that are different”.

The changing landscape

A majority of the job roles that today’s young people will be going into do not yet exist, and many people in the IT industry are performing roles that were not around when they were growing up.

Roles such as data scientists, cyber security managers and social media marketers are all new to the business world, and Collier believes young girls often still think of “engineering” as a more traditional manufacturing role.

“As businesses we need to promote what roles look like in this day and age,” Collier says.

“There’s a lot of things we can do with technology now that wouldn’t even have been thought of a few years ago, so if we can articulate what it is we have in the way of opportunities and how degrees can be applied to those opportunities, we hopefully will see a transition away from engineering or women in tech being seen as very traditional roles and actually be able to see them in the way of improving society.”

Research has found 12-year-old girls perceive Stem subjects as too difficult, and Collier believes the lack of women entering technical roles may be down to poor “marketing” of job opportunities.

By presenting technical roles as a platform for changing society, Collier thinks more girls will be interested in entering a career in technology. “In the IT industry there are so many opportunities to do things that will benefit society or enable tech to improve the way that things are done, and that’s maybe how we make it more attractive to the younger girls,” she says.

Non-tech roles with tech knowledge

There is some debate surrounding whether women in the IT industry who perform non-technical roles should be classed as “women in IT”.

Collier, who has worked for Hitachi for the last 12 years, was pursuing a career in HR before “falling into” a more technical role, and believes skills and knowledge are more important than job title.

“If women are in the IT industry but they’re not in a technical role, they still need to have an appreciation of what their company is selling, promoting or developing,” Collier says.

“I think it is important that we do see that the non-technical people who come into the business in IT are still women in the tech business. Even if they don’t have an engineering or a pre-sales technical consultant role, they still have to understand what the company does.”

Due to the rise of digital, every company will need technology in the future, and individuals will need an understanding of technology regardless of the role they are performing.

“There’s so much crossover now between the different disciplines,” Collier says. “It’s now more about skills than age and gender.”

Supporting social change

Hitachi promotes projects surrounding social innovation, and Collier believes this concept is very attractive to women.

She is the co-founder of the Hitachi Women’s Interactive Network (WIN), which encourages women to build a social environment within their offices, and runs an annual summit designed to “kickstart a community” across the Hitachi group, providing visible role models to younger women in the business.

To promote women in IT, WIN presents monthly seminars on topics important to women in the industry, and works with a London girls’ school to make them aware of the types of projects that Hitachi works on.

“Diversity has a business benefit,” Collier says. “As well as doing the right thing it has an impact on the productivity, the creativity, inside a business.

“It should just be a reflection of the way society is, but because we don’t have that balance in the workplace yet we have to take some manufactured initiatives to make things happen.”

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