November 8th is an essential day for educators as it celebrates the importance of STEM subjects. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics all provide vital skills for career development and progression. However, not enough students are taking up these subjects, and many industries – including technology – are missing out because of this.
Education Business spoke to 13 IT industry experts to gather their thoughts on how STEM skills can be positively implemented into education and training programs both within schools and the workplace.
As technology evolves, skills need to follow
Alan Conboy, Office of the CTO at Scale Computing, identifies that the technology environment is “constantly evolving and as such we need to remember that in order to continue to develop and innovate, we require fresh ideas and new skills. This is why days, like STEM day, are important, because globally we are suffering from a digital skills shortage in areas including AI, hybrid, edge, cloud-based development and management.”
“Change and progress in the technology industry is constant,” agrees Josh Flinn, Director of Product Strategy and Innovation at Cybera. “The challenge is there is a huge talent shortage - there simply aren’t enough individuals with the right digital skills. Days like STEM/STEAM day serve as an important reminder to providing accessible resources and opportunities to encourage students to develop their STEM skill sets.”
Adapting the tech curriculum is essential
To follow the trends of technology innovation, STEM subjects need to stay up to date, explains Svenja de Vos, CTO at Leaseweb. “Even with the increased emphasis on teaching STEM subjects in schools and at universities, when it comes to filling technology roles most organisations are still struggling to find the right people with the right expertise. A key underlying reason for this seems to be the widening gap between what’s being taught in the classroom and what’s needed in the real world – technology today moves so rapidly it’s hard to keep up.
“Though the adaptation of technology aspects may be not be happening fast enough, it’s still vital to have a solid technology foundation such as a computer science or software degree. Keeping up with the tech revolution, however, means that STEM learning shouldn’t stop there.”
Rich Pugh, Chief Data Scientist and Co-founder, Mango Solutions acknowledges how in “the last five years, demand for specialist skills like data science and data engineering has increased significantly, mainly due to the growth in adoption by organisations of data-driven strategies to derive business value. Despite the demand for these skills, however, educators are still only offering a more traditional mix of academic subjects at primary and secondary education level.
“It’s increasingly important that we educate young people beyond just ‘performing’ data science and focus more on the high-level concepts, mechanics and language of data science that will prepare young people for a workforce that is increasingly based on data-driven approaches and operating models.”
Workplace training is now a necessity
Sascha Giese, Head Geek at SolarWinds identifies how training in the workplace is essential: “Taking up STEM subjects when you’re young is a great way to get into a thriving industry, but the learning doesn’t stop there! In the public sector, technology professionals need to keep up with training to not only ensure they’re up to date on the technologies that can benefit their sector, but also for their own career development.
“For teams to tailor the training they receive to make it as valuable as possible, they should evaluate their current environments; for example, asking themselves which leading technologies from last year have made their way into today’s IT environment.”
“Growing a workforce of individuals who are more STEM-qualified involves introducing them to options and training opportunities,” explains Joseph Feiman, Chief Strategy Officer at WhiteHat Security. “Whether this requires organisations to teach new or additional skills, both will be important strategies to close the employment gap. Larger companies can place this in the hands of their learning and development teams. Smaller businesses can consider outsourcing the process or allocating time from experienced staff to mentor people as they add to their skillsets.”
Diversity will help shape the future of STEM
Unfortunately the gender gap is yet to be resolved, as Michelle Fitzgerald, Director, Demand Gen & Events at Plutora addresses: “Encouraging girls in particular to study STEM subjects will help to bring a fresh perspective to an industry such as technology, which is traditionally very male-dominant. Diversifying the STEM workforce will ensure that technology will continue to revolutionise the world around us and bring positive impact to a broader range of industries."
Ketna Makwana, HR Manager at Node4 agrees: “STEM subjects are so important, more than just in the business sense. They are used in everyday life and help with the further development of things we use day to day. However, there is definitely a skills gap within the technology sector, and it’s growing rapidly. This is why it’s important that businesses get involved and encourage students to study STEM subjects.”
But even students taking STEM subjects at school isn’t always enough. Agata Nowakowska, Area Vice President at Skillsoft, recognises how “we need to focus on keeping them there – encouraging more students to pursue these subjects at degree-level and beyond.
“Young girls have claimed in the past that they are put off of subjects such as computing because they see them as ‘too difficult’, but a large number of young women have also admitted to regretting not pursuing STEM subjects for longer. There is an opportunity here for a paradigm shift that we are simply not taking. That's why the onus is on parents, teachers and business leaders to show that there is a place for girls in STEM – they need role models and sponsors to encourage them to take the path. There are so many programmes aimed at getting girls interested in these areas, but we need to go further to challenge and eradicate the old-fashioned views that are clearly still very much ingrained in the public consciousness."
Yumi Nishiyama, Director of Global Services at Exabeam explores the importance of female role models.
“The gender gap definitely still exists in a variety of ways. For example, statistics say only 20% of individuals in tech are women, and only 11% percent of individuals in cybersecurity are women. We need more women in upper leadership, and the unequal wage issue is still a reality. I’d like to encourage women to take a proactive stance in not only building the solutions, but being a part of the solution.
“My biggest piece of advice for women of all ages would be: ‘do not be afraid to use your voice.’ As women, we bring different ideas and strengths. Be confident in what you’re good at, pursue what you’re passionate about, and let that be the focal point, not the stereotypes.”
STEM skills are transferable skills
Connie Stack, Chief Strategy Officer at Digital Guardian, knows that integrating a human element can make STEM more interesting and relevant: “Education, particularly in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), is the key to addressing many of society’s greatest challenges. Recent research from Microsoft and KRC Research found that confidence in STEM wanes as children get older - especially in girls - but interest can be recovered when subjects are related to real-world people and problems.”
“There are even toys for kids now that introduce them to the concept of coding,” reveals April Taylor, Vice President at ConnectWise Manage. “Technology is more pervasive and the exposure to coding and product development is there for a lot of kids, so it’s a matter of getting them excited about taking this recreational or academic assignment and turning it into a career. Organisations should consider this when looking at the incoming workforce, especially since IT is always changing and the industry requires constant education to stay ahead of the curve.”
“Technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives,” concludes Krishna Subramanian, COO at Komprise, “from online shopping to our privacy and security, autonomous cars to health and genomics – and that's just to name a few. In light of this, STEM education is no longer just for students who want to pursue an engineering career, as there are so many more industries that need tech skills. It is vital in nearly every career from law and public policy, to medicine, to engineering, and the arts.”
Whatever career students are considering, or whatever industry businesses are in, STEM skills are desirable for them all. It is important to stay up to date with the ever-changing technology climate and proactively search for ways to improve potential and current employees’ STEM skillsets, to bring greater change for future generations.
Science Minister Chris Skidmore spoke at the BETT Show, reiterating the government's commitment to education technology and working with industry to create solutions that address some of the challenges in education.