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TeenTech City 2017 – using practical demos to encourage Stem careers

By giving students access to practical demonstrations of technology uses in business, TeenTech City show aims to encourage more children to pursue science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) careers

TeenTech invited 1,000 pupils between the ages of eight and 18 to take part in a TeenTech City 2017 careers event designed to encourage children in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects.

The day consisted of tasks and challenges set up by exhibitors and TeenTech’s sponsors City of London, Queen Mary’s College, University of London, University College London Centre for Engineering Education, Just It, Westminster Kingsway College and Thames Water.

The idea of the event was to create an interactive experience with children to challenge the usual stereotypes of the technology industry and make Stem more engaging.

Maggie Philbin, founder and CEO of TeenTech, said: “You might just be 12 or 13 years old, but it’s not that your ideas are just good for a 12-year-old – a good idea is a good idea.”

TeenTech is more famously known for its TeenTech Awards event it runs each year, where teenagers are given the opportunity to submit Stem-based projects designed to solve real-world problems.

But to encourage even more children into Stem careers, the TeenTech City event run by Philbin put more than 200 people working in science, technology and engineering in front of kids to make them more aware of what Stem careers entail.

As part of the day, the pupils were given the opportunity to vote on how interested they are in various Stem careers, as well as how they would most like to learn about future career opportunities.

By the end of the event, 82% of the eight to 12-year-olds said they would be fairly or very interested in a technology career – more than the 71% at the beginning of the event.

Pupils also said they would prefer to learn about Stem-based careers through interactive events where they can take part in tasks and challenges.

Philbin told Computer Weekly that due to the underlying interest in technology careers, both the tech and education industries should do more to ensure students are more aware of tech careers and of the skills they already have that could be useful in the technology industry.

Younger students were given the opportunity to listen to previous winners of the TeenTech Awards talk about how the TeenTech experience helped them become more involved in the technology industry.

Previous TeenTech winners e-WaterTap developed a smart-metered water tap for use in underdeveloped countries. The winners said the idea of working in the technology sector “just clicked” once they took part in TeenTech and “tech began to make sense and the idea of a career in tech seemed easier”.

“Before TeenTech, I saw developers and programmers as very daunting,” said one team member.

Getting girls into Stem

More than half of the students who attended TeenTech City were female, with 58% of the younger students being girls.

Negative industry stereotypes can often put girls off studying Stem subjects or pursuing Stem careers, with younger girls even saying they think Stem subjects are too difficult.

As part of TeenTech City, exhibitors from different technology firms exhibitors were presented with the challenge of making Stem careers seem more appealing to boys and girls.

At the beginning of the day, 65% of girls said they were fairly or very interested in a technology career, which increased to 81% after having time to work with suppliers and partners to understand more about the industry.

Apprenticeships could close skills gap

The TeenTech City event was aimed at older school pupils who may be looking into how they pursue particular careers.

A combination of apprentices, TeenTech ambassadors and tech industry professionals shared advice surrounding jobs and apprenticeships with students between the ages of 15 and 18.

Apprentices are often considered a sub-standard route into working life, with many parents feeling uncomfortable encouraging children down this route.

Philbin said: “Many of you will be very familiar with the university route, but companies such as the BBC and Siemens are also recruiting apprentices. When doing an app, you can also do a degree at the same time.”

Many businesses in the technology industry believe apprenticeships could be a good way to solve the skills gap.

Past TeenTech ambassadors and apprentices advised the students to talk to as many people as possible, to be passionate and to go the extra mile.

“Whether you’re applying to university or an apprenticeship or whether you’re trying for a job, you need to stand out from the crowd,” said Philbin.

Importance of soft skills

The technology industry is currently suffering from a skills gap, and firms have complained that graduates do not have the skills needed to fill technology roles.

Ben Mustill-Rose, developer in test for the BBC, told students that extracurricular activities can make a huge difference when looking for a job in the technology industry.

“From a tech point of view, it’s all about contributing to things. If you’re thinking about a software engineering role, try to have an active account on Github and contribute to a project,” said Mustill-Rose.

“It shows you genuinely care about what you’re doing, because it’s not just what you’re doing in the classroom.”

Many employers are looking for candidates with soft skills as well as technical skills, which are not always taught as part of a university programme.

FDM Group, which is sponsoring the Digital Skills category of the 2017 TeenTech Awards, advised taking part in extracurricular activities that are directly and indirectly associated to a tech career to pick up the appropriate transferable skills.

Jeffrey Lovejoy, FDM’s UK and Ireland recruitment manager, said the skills you pick up during as part of participating in clubs and societies are transferable skills. Although employers can mould you to fit a role, these soft skills are fundamental in securing a job, he added.

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