According to the UK Commission for Employment & Skills, a lack of skills is making it a challenge to fill 43 per cent of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professional vacancies. The problem is twice as severe within STEM as it is in other sectors. The UK is facing an estimated shortfall of 40,000 STEM graduates each year, which demonstrates that this problem is far from resolved and a more concerted effort needs to be made to instil an interest in these subjects at an earlier educational stage.
Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) is passionate about helping to find a solution to the digital skills gap in the UK, particularly by motivating and inspiring young people to take an interest in STEM careers. To this end, TCS was delighted to open the doors to London school students for our inaugural Digital Explorers programme.
Over 400 14-18 year olds participated in a weeklong work experience programme which provided young people an insight into the many career opportunities available in IT and tech. The event included masterclasses, insight sessions, workshops and Q&A sessions with TCS professionals and other STEM experts. Each day had a different unifying theme, such as “data analytics” or “robotics” and culminated in presentations delivered by the students for their peers and the professional tutors who led the groups. Participants were deliberately placed in classes without their friends or schoolmates to foster interaction and build confidence.
Digital Explorers utilises a two-pronged approach – exciting young people in STEM careers and giving them an insight in to the world of work. The big concepts discussed during the week were grounded in concrete examples such as the recent high profile cyber-attacks, to make them relatable and relevant to day-to-day life. As a tech focused event, innovation featured heavily in the daily activities and TCS sought to familiarise students with new digital tools as a way of stirring their interest in STEM pathways.
Getting this group of young people engaged in STEM skills was integral to our aim of breaking down misconceptions around STEM careers as being inaccessible or intimidating. Based on a survey conducted at Digital Explorers, 67 per cent of attendees felt they would gain more from their studies if technology was deployed more effectively in the classroom, with one student commenting; “I feel like if I was able to use technology in my lessons, it could prepare me better for the technology used in the workplace later on in life.” Nine out of ten students (91%) believed that digital skills and technology would become more important in the classrooms of the future.
As well as generating interest and excitement in STEM, a key aspect of Digital Explorers is to open up dialogue between the industry and the tech talent of tomorrow. The week ended with our fifth Spark Salon, an event series developed to provide a platform for conversations around tech and society with leading thinkers in the industry. One of the experts, Dayo Akinrinade, an IT Management Consultant, who has worked for the likes of Deloitte, pointed out that “you don’t need to be a maths whizz or a maths genius to have a career in tech. I’m not.”
The variety of both age and motivations kept the Digital Explores sessions lively; some students had volunteered themselves with an existing interest in STEM whilst others had been recommended by a teacher or mentor. A staggering 97 per cent of the attendees across the board felt that technology would be important for their jobs in the future. One student observed that technology “will become the main economic drive” and another said that the “world is becoming increasingly reliant on digital solutions.”
Young people are aware of the reality that technology is drastically changing the jobs market, so it is crucial that adults, both within the public and private sector, acknowledge this too. If students themselves are becoming concerned that they are not able to access the skills training they require, then this is clearly a major challenge and the industry must do more to bridge the gap between expectation and reality.
Through Digital Explorers, students acquired new skills and important information that will help them pursue the job they want in the future. But more importantly, 80 per cent of attendees reported gaining a better understanding of how and why digital skills are important after completing the programme.
By keeping initiatives like this fun and engaging, whilst at the same time offering the level of practical experience they need to make informed decisions, we hope more young people will be inspired to pursue careers in STEM.
The second of our Digital Explorers project will be take place in Birmingham from the 6th – 10th November. I know the TCS team are looking forward to meeting the next group of young people and to continue piquing interest in STEM skills. Among these young people might be a future Baroness Martha Lane-Fox or Tim Peake, and we hope to help open some eyes to new horizons.
Yogesh Chauhan was appointed Director of Corporate Sustainability for Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) in May 2012.