How tech companies are promoting STEM

Bridging the skills gap isn't just the job of the public sector, private businesses need to be involved too

To survive in today's interconnected society, it's important to have a good grasp of the latest innovation. But despite the benefits offered by technology, many people still lack sufficient digital skills and it's generally felt that not enough is being done by governments to educate the workforce of the future. STEM subjects - science, technology engineering and maths - are still being neglected, despite their importance.

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According to the British Chamber of Commerce, more than three in four businesses are facing a shortage of digital skills within the workplace. Separate research, published in 2017 by Engineering UK, found there's an annual 20,000 shortfall of engineering candidates in particular. Statistics from Your Life also show that 104,000 STEM graduates are needed every year in the UK alone, but 40,000 jobs in this area are being left vacant.

On average, 45% of young people choose A Levels based on future aspirations, although just 43% of them receive formal guidance on the subjects they should choose. As a result, there's a skills deficit, which creates problems for modern economies. Luckily, many tech companies are looking to change this.

Focusing on the new generation

American cloud computing giant Salesforce is one of the technology companies looking to plug the STEM skills gap. Over the years, it's supported a wide range of initiatives to encourage young people - especially girls - to choose technology and science subjects at school and consider careers in these areas one day.

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One of the firm's biggest initiatives is called Circle of Schools. It partnered with School21 in London, providing it with a $100,000 grant to kickstart successful STEM education programmes. Each school has a Salesforce executive sponsor and a team of employees who actively take part in hands-on activities throughout the year.

The firm has also been working with CoderDojo, which is a global network of free computer programming clubs for young people, to reach more than 420 new students. At Dojo, young people aged between 7 and 17 are given the opportunity to learn how to code, develop websites, apps, programs, games, and explore technology in an informal and creative environment.

So far, Salesforce employees have donated more than 1,930 hours in volunteer work to the charity and a grant of $200,000 to help scale the program. Andrew Lawson, EVP of EMEA at the company, tells IT Pro: "I recently read a report from the British Chambers of Commerce that stated more than half of businesses (52%) are reporting a shortage of digitally skilled staff.

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"It's a worrying statistic, which is why I'm passionate about getting the next generation of the workforce excited about a career in tech. I firmly believe the tech industry has a responsibility to get involved and help reverse this trend. Here at Salesforce we run a number of initiatives to encourage young people to consider a career in technology."

More interactive learning

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), which is one of the largest IT employers in the UK, is also doing its bit to promote STEM subjects. The company is actively challenging Britain's technology skills shortage through its IT Futures Programme. To date, it's reached over 200,000 young people in more than 600 schools across the UK, offering them coding competitions and classroom teaching.

As part of this programme, it recently launched Digital Explorers at the London Southbank University. This saw more than 400 pupils from year 10 - 13 take part in a week's work experience, where they had masterclass sessions with industry leaders on hot tech topics like AI and coding.

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Yogesh Chuahan, director of corporate sustainability at TCS regarding, says it's crucial that companies foster the next generation of digital talent. "We know that young people have a real love of technology but are often unaware of the exciting careers on offer, which has contributed to the current UK STEM skills gap," he says.

"We launched Digital Explorers to offer a week-long work experience opportunity for 800+ year 10 - 13 students across London and Birmingham to gain experience of digital industries, digital skills and better understand future tech-trends. We had one clear objective: to increase their chances of succeeding in the sector and to get them enthused about STEM.

"As a result, almost two thirds of attendees said they would use technology more after their work experience, which is great to hear as our goal as a business is to help foster the next generation of digital talent. Digital Explorers is part of our wider IT Futures programme which has so far reached over 200,000 young people in more than 600 schools."

Coding as a crucial skill

If there's one skill that's in huge demand in the world of technology, it's coding and this is something Rocket Software is looking to promote. The company wants to encourage youngsters to learn how to program and move into careers as developers. As a major partner of IBM, it's heavily involved in helping youngsters learn more about technology.

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With the support of IBM, the company ran a hackathon at the Student Career Day at the US-based SHARE conference in August. It's also currently running the APT Rocket.Build Academy competition to encourage university students to get programming. The prize for winning the competition is 5,000 and an all-expenses paid trip to a future Rocket.Build event to be held in Boston.

Richard Whomes, director of engineering at the company, says: "Businesses must invest in technology education for young people if they want a viable pool of talent to hire from in the years to come. [Thousands of] baby boomers are retiring every day. This is a significant brain drain for the tech industry, especially for companies that use mainframes. To address this, more emphasis must be placed on teaching modern mainframe skills, including enterprise computing and devops.

"Rocket is serious about ensuring that today's generation of developers are well-equipped with the coding skills needed for multi-platform roles. We currently have a partnership with IBM to run a student hackathon at the SHARE conference in the US this month.

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"Here in the UK, we have invited university students to enter our APT Rocket.Build Academy competition, to teach them how to work on a MultiValue database. The 5,000 prize and all-expenses paid trip to Boston is hopefully a good incentive for students to take up the challenge and learn a new computing skill."

There's no denying the fact that the STEM skills shortfall is a major challenge faced by governments and organisations right around the world. And while it may be some time before we see any significant changes, it's certainly encouraging to see that tech companies are doing their part to close this skills gap.

Main image credit: Bigstock

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