We all know about the well-documented skills shortages in the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) industries.
Local charity LoveTech was set up to inspire girls and young women to consider a career in these areas.
Chair Angela van den Berg explains why it is especially important to get girls involved.
She says: ’The skills shortage is actually a global problem. If I focus on the UK, including the Isle of Man, something like 700,000 jobs in STEM went unfilled last year because the skills are not there. The UK economy is losing millions every year because people are not pursuing these careers so there’s no one to apply for these jobs.
’And those of those that do pursue these careers only 20% of them are women.
’So it’s about addressing that imbalance. We’re encouraging all young people to consider pursuing these careers for the benefit of the economy and the companies that run in this field, but particularly women.’
Angela is speaking at LoveTech’s sellout event, the Half-Term Tech Fest, held at the Villa on Friday. Although the charity was set up to focus on girls, they are also keen to encourage boys to consider pursuing roles in STEM companies.
She says: ’You can’t achieve meaningful change without men and boys.
’We’re in this together and, while our charity is about encouraging young women to pursue STEM careers, boys need to encourage their sisters and fathers need to encourage their daughters, so you need men to be involved.
So why aren’t girls pursuing these careers? Why don’t they take tech or science subjects at school, or do degrees in them?
Angela says: ’It’s the most bizarre thing because there’s no definitive answer.
’Is there an unconscious bias in schools that girls are not good at maths? Or that science is for boys? Or you’d be stuck in a basement coding?
’So that’s the idea behind today, to show the kids on the island that it’s not as boring as they may think, or as unattainable or as unattractive as they may think.
Ironically, despite its comparatively remote location, the island offers a surprisingly large number of high-end, cutting edge technology companies and the sort of jobs you might think would only be available in London or another big city. The very nature of tech means that companies can set up anywhere.
Angela says: ’That’s why what we’re doing is so important because you need young women and young boys to understand what kind of jobs are out there - there are all sorts of cool jobs in the field. And this generation of kids, they’re a lot more socially conscious: they worry about the environment, they worry about people getting sick much more than the older generation would.
’For them, if they can go hang on I can pursue a career in tech that is socially conscious as well, maybe I should think about that instead of going into something more traditional.
’One of the companies here today, Memory Lane Games, designs computer games for people with dementia so that’s absolutely fantastic. We also have Riela cyber security here because, let’s face it, the digital world is terrifying and pursuing a career where you can actually help people protect their data or protect their company is a really noble cause as well.’
Freya Livsey-Corlett, who is helped to man the PDMS stand at the event, is the perfect ambassador for a career in tech.
Freya, who holds a BSc (Hons) in Computer Science from the University of Exeter and an MSc in Information Systems and Management from the University of Warwick, is the analyst and test manager at PDMS, leading a team of 14.
She says: ’I was brought up with tech. I was really lucky: my father was in IT and, when I was three, I had an Omega Commodore. I was also lucky to have very, very good secondary school teachers and I’ve been lucky enough to work in IT ever since university. I’ve worked as a tester, a project manager and a product manager.
’Then I came to PDMS. I’ve got a team of 14 fabulous individuals under me here: they’ve all got the passion and the enthusiasm for the job too.
’We have a chat with the client and get to understand their needs, then we take that work back to our development team and they create the solution.
’I then test that, so I get to be involved with the two ends of the process which is really exciting.’
LoveTech, and the tech sector in general, would love to have many more women like Freya, but Angela does acknowledge that LoveTech is sewing seeds that may take a good few years to come to fruition.
She says: ’It’s not an overnight thing. What we need to do is actually change, or help to change, the mindset: that’s what it’s all about. It’s about awakening the love of STEM at a younger age, exposing kids at a younger age, so they can start thinking about these things, and helping the schools to encourage kids and that will be a long term thing.