This week, CA employees from across the globe are taking time out to support the company’s annual volunteering initiative, CA Together in Action. Now in its 12th year, the event is positioned to encourage employees to volunteer in initiatives that inspire young people to consider future careers in STEM.
As a STEM Ambassador, I recently took time out to welcome a group of 150 secondary school students, aged between 14 and 15, to a “Step into STEM” event at CA, run jointly with Deutsche Bank, Mars and GSK. It was part of Create Tomorrow, CA’s corporate social responsibility program in Europe, designed to address the STEM skills gap and gender imbalance through volunteering initiatives led by employees. At events like these, when I welcome students, I always emphasize one important piece of advice, and I hope it resonates: If you apply yourself, you can achieve anything. I say this from experience, because when I look back at my school days, mathematics was a subject I needed to work hard at – but this didn’t hold me back.
What are the barriers?
The STEM skills gap is one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. Too few young people are studying STEM and then entering related careers – and women are significantly under-represented in these fields. The European Commission estimates a shortage of 700,000 skilled technology workers in Europe by 2020. What are the barriers – and how do we remove them? Research shows a declining uptake of STEM subjects among school students after the age of 16. And the reason they are losing interest in STEM is complex and multi-faceted – it extends across how STEM subjects are taught and addressed at school, and the influences by media, parents, students’ peer groups, and career advisors.
STEM subjects are often seen as difficult and unrewarding – and excelled by people labelled “geeks” or “nerds”. These same image problems extend into the perceptions of careers, with students not perceiving STEM subjects as the passport to lucrative, interesting and exciting careers. Neither are they aware that science and technology subjects teach life-long transferable skills that are relevant across multiple professions.
At the Step into STEM event.
Role models are key players
Ask a school student today what they want to be when they leave education, and it’s unlikely you’ll hear them say “data scientist”, “software engineer” or “cyber security expert”. I believe this is largely because youngsters do not see these roles as the people they could grow up to be. Role models are therefore a key player in building perceptions of the types of STEM careers – especially amongst young women.
At CA, our female employee STEM Ambassadors play a vital role in showing young girls what it’s like to be a “girl in tech”, and to help them aspire to achieve greater things. Over the last few months we have been running the Deploy Your Talents program in Italy, Spain, Germany and France – in Italy we ran our fourth edition this year. The program connects business and education to raise awareness among secondary school students, especially girls, of the value of STEM subjects and careers, and aims to help overcome gender-stereotyping. Our employees work as role models by discussing their careers with students, and explaining what it’s like to work for a global software company, and the pathways to their careers.
Changing perceptions of STEM
Building thriving economies to drive the future forward relies on a STEM skilled workforce. Transforming young people’s attitudes is a long-term project – and achieving it will take commitment and collaboration between education, business and government to remove the barriers that exist today.
Through Create Tomorrow, CA is working to influence positive attitudes to STEM – by delivering initiatives that show students the connections between studies and career opportunities. It’s our employees, CA’s STEM Ambassadors, who are helping to remove the barriers – whose passion and enthusiasm to pay it forward and make a difference are playing a part in inspiring the next generation of digital leaders and innovators. But, big changes need to be made. However, if we apply ourselves – business, education and government – we can achieve anything.