The choice of technology as a career is still fairly misunderstood by the majority of secondary school children weighing up their career path options. The perception of what many young people believed represented the embodiment of working in technology – the ‘geeky’ programmer or coding expert hunched over a computer – is the stuff of folklore, but the average school student has generally failed to grasp the variety and flexibility that a career in technology can offer.
These students – especially girls – who are not considering technology as a career choice, made that decision years ago, many spurning the chance to work in an invigorating sector which now has such an impact on our lives. However, I think these perceptions are shifting and excellent initiatives like Developing the Young Workforce West Lothian are helping to mould and influence young minds that fantastic opportunities in technology are there to be grasped.
Within Sky’s Technology Division, we too are reaching out to schools in a big way and driving forward our Modern Apprenticeship programme. Established five years ago, the programme typically receives over 100 applicants each year, but in previous years it was not unknown for there to be not one single female applicant.
This year – progress! We have 150 applications of which 15 are from girls. Let me be clear, competition is tough and the application process rigorous. We look to place four people on the Apprenticeship programme, whittled down from a short list who will go to our assessment centre from the initial applications, but we’re delighted that girls are seeing technology as a pathway worth pursuing.
Getting into the 11 local catchment secondary schools across West Lothian to speak with teachers, pupils and in some cases, parents, have been driven by the great work undertaken by partners like Developing the Young Workforce Regional Group, based within the West Lothian Chamber of Commerce.
It is therefore up to employers in West Lothian, like Sky, to continually foster these strong links and help to gradually change perceptions that technology careers are there for everyone – not just boys!
We take part in a number of outreach activities to address the gender issue, from attending STEM events, to inviting school pupils into our offices to chat with our female engineers.
Activity like this clearly inspires young girls, showing them that possessing a great attitude and passion is more important than possessing technical skills. We show that you don’t need to be just scientifically minded to work in technology – indeed, some of our best engineers at Sky, both female and male, come from wide and varied backgrounds including arts and humanities.
At Sky, we also have female Analysts, Project Managers, Coders, Software Technicians and several in senior or leadership roles. These are demonstrable role models and a powerful way of showing girls what can be achieved if they wish to pursue a career in technology. Furthermore, we are helping to redress the ‘myth’ that technology continues to be a male dominated environment above all else.
Lauren Brown, Project Manager of Developing the Young Workforce West Lothian Regional Group has worked with our team over the past year. She said it is evident that ‘investing in the young workforce is not only an important priority in attracting new talent but is a fundamental component of the Sky company ethos when it comes to developing the existing staff.’
Ultimately, we can only do so much encouraging and influencing. Perhaps the initial discussions should not start in the classroom but at home. The UK government recently stated that just 17 per cent of workers in technology are female and this underrepresentation starts at school with only 7 per cent of computer science ‘A’ level students being female.
IT coding skills and digital skills are some of the most important weapons in a young workers’ arsenal as new tech infiltrates all area of employment – the European Commission maintaining that 90 per cent of occupations today require digital competences, including programming. However, according to our new research, these skills are viewed by parents as more important for boys than girls, just as tech-specific careers are preferred for sons. One in eight parents would want their son to be a game developer, compared to just one on 20 who say the same of their daughters. There is the same disparity for engineers and tech entrepreneurs. Parents can often be more interested in their daughters working in ‘caring professions’ despite the fact that the tech jobs are likely to offer higher wages and long-term job security in the face of AI, robotics and automation.
Parental influence is crucial in ensuring that more girls embrace a career in technology, where career opportunities in future years are boundless.
Ronnie Corse is head of technology at SKY