Major IT businesses head into schools to stem the digital skills shortage

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One of the world’s largest technology companies, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), has joined forces with Marks & Spencer (M&S) and STEMNET to bring IT role models from industry into UK schools and get more students inspired about computing. Using ‘ambassadors’ from the computing profession in this way has been shown to make pupils over 90% more interested in continuing to study science and technology subjects in the future.

The UK needs 750,000 more digitally skilled workers in the next five years if it is to maximise a £12bn economic opportunity in digital industries (source: 02, 2013). As such, a new IT curriculum is on the horizon for 2014 that means children will now be taught how to write computer code. The new requirements were developed in consultation with industry and, as such change may be challenging for many teachers when it arrives, businesses also have a responsibility to support its delivery.

109 new volunteers from TCS and M&S have joined STEMNET’s STEM Ambassador programme, and their volunteers are visiting 15 schools this week alone to deliver a bespoke set of IT activities. The businesses have devised new classroom activities specifically to address topics such as algorithms that will appear in the new curriculum, and an activity guide to support teachers in the long term. They have also pledged further volunteer support going forward.

This type of session is proven to have a positive influence on children, with 9 out of 10 teachers saying that STEM Ambassador activity had increased pupils’ awareness of STEM subjects and their real world applications and over three quarters of teachers reporting increased pupil awareness of STEM career and employment options.

Just over half of teachers have experienced challenges in the wider delivery of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) enrichment and enhancement activities in their schools (source: the National Foundation for Educational Research, 2013). A lack of time is the most widespread challenge faced by schools, so the STEM Ambassadors resource in the classroom can be a huge help.

STEMNET’s Government-backed STEM Ambassadors programme sends over 26,000 volunteers from more than 3,000 UK businesses into UK schools, and also encourages and facilitates direct connections between schools and businesses.

Kirsten Bodley, CEO, STEMNET, commented, “STEM Ambassadors play a hugely important role in enthusing young people about what can seem like difficult subjects, and informing them about the exciting and rewarding career options that they offer. Faced with a serious skills deficit, more UK businesses should be stepping-up as Marks & Spencer and Tata Consultancy Services have done, to make sure they will be able to recruit the skilled workforce that they need in the future.”

Pete Schofield, Head of IT Operations at Marks & Spencer said: “By volunteering in this way our employees and suppliers are giving not only their time, but also their professional skills and knowledge to support local communities. The IT industry has an important role to play in inspiring the next generation, that’s why we’ve chosen to work with STEMNET. I hope we can make a big difference to those schools we work with and I’m sure it will be an inspirational day for the volunteers too.”

Dr Sam Healy, Board member of the Corporate Responsibility Group (CRG), said, “Employee volunteering is a common strand in most Corporate Responsibly strategies. It provides opportunities for employees to develop new skills and makes a significant contribution to improving employee engagement.  In addition it provides real benefits to community groups and charities. We were delighted when Kirsten Bodley, Chief Executive of STEMNET was our guest at a recent CRG event on STEM Outreach. STEMNET has provided excellent support to a number of our members through their STEM Ambassadors programme. The recent STEMNET report provides a really good insight into the positive impact that companies have and the benefits that they get back from working with schools, which will help CR professionals make the business case for volunteering.”

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