As a person who sits between a dual role, one of Digital Skills and Emerging technology, I feel privileged to be one of the many people who work as STEM Ambassadors, to inspire the generation of children to moving into technology as a career path. STEM Ambassadors, for those who are unaware, are people who work in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subject as a career and give up some of their time to engage with young people, to inform, advise and inspire them towards the opportunities of a career within STEM.
My role is to engage education at all levels and ages, and open up the realities and opportunities within the technology sector, so becoming a STEM Ambassador made complete sense. I am often invited by schools and colleges to support in career fares, STEM events, or sector days, which can range from a simple 30 minute talk, through to a full day of interactive workshops. However for me, this is part of my day to day job and I am also lucky enough to be able to talk to the students about an array of interesting emerging technology areas such as XR, AI & machine learning, IoT, and more. However as someone who is not an active developer, there is only so much I can do to explore these technologies with students who are looking to get deeper insight. This is where you can come in, developers and techies who are on the ground, using this technology and creating brilliant things with it.
This is by no means a sales pitch, you can support without being branded a STEM Ambassador. However with such a critical issue as the digital skills gap, we should all feel the need to help where we can, even it its only an hour or so. We work in an industry that is moving quicker than anyone could of predicted, with businesses springing up almost daily, and with that new jobs appearing almost constantly. This is where the skills gap was created, from a boom in technology, the double edged sword that we have created by being creative. We are currently in a situation where skilled developers are moving from business to business, 'poaching' being a term many have come to know, however this only furthers the issue of a skills gap, with no new people moving into the industry to fill those gaps, it only continues to grow. We still have a problem of social stigmas, a misunderstood industry, misinformation and lack of educational resource, that ultimately is leading more and more potential technical people away from a role that would otherwise fit them perfectly in the future.
What can existing developers and technical workers do? Simply put, be more visible. We owe it to ourselves to be out there, talking about what we do, how it genuinely changes the world. Be an inspiration to those children who have an interest in technology but currently no outlet, just by talking passionately, getting excited over the work you do, goes a long way in getting children to stick with it as a goal for the future. I know for some this is a huge ask, especially when it’s typically during working hours, and we all get so busy to the point we just have to say no, but this is where the mindset needs to change. I would not ask for everyone working in technology to give up 20 hours a year to deliver STEM events, that would be understandably too much. But if a larger majority went to talk to a class for 30 minutes or an hour, 4 times a year, the impact would be felt. There are those in the technology community who go out of their way to do a huge amount of activity with kids, and that is fantastic, but those people are limited to their location, or set free time, which will not fit with all schools, colleges or other providers.
This is where we can all step up: 30 minutes 4 times a year does not sound at all like a huge ask to me, and yet makes a huge difference to schools and colleges, who are desperate for industry involvement. If that short talk gets into the mind of just one or two children who you speak to, and leads them to want a career in technology, that is one or two more than we had, and small gains make a huge difference in the long run.
It is paramount that we do this for not only our industry, but for ourselves, otherwise the volume of work will outstrip resource, resulting in longer working hours for more people, with the worst outcome being people leaving the industry altogether. 30 minutes, 4 times a year, is not a great ask, and the reward of knowing you have inspired children to do something you are so passionate about, is by far one of the best feelings you can get from working in this industry.