Encouraging Young People into IT – Top Ten Tips
June 24, 2016

With the IT industry booming more and more every year, the shortage of IT graduates is more apparent than ever, especially in Northern Ireland. STEM subjects are by far the most undersubscribed, particularly mathematics, computer science and engineering. But why?

Well, there are many reasons. One of the biggest concerns is of course the lack of women in the industry, with girls representing just 12% of engineering students at universities in the UK, and just 4% of those taking engineering apprenticeships.

Here at Etain Ltd we want to encourage young people (particularly women) to fight stereotypes and pursue a career in IT. But we can’t encourage them alone - Let’s shape the next generation together!
Here are our Top Ten Tips to encourage young people into IT and other STEM fields.

1. Encourage them from a Young Age

This one is for the parents. You don’t have to wait until they are teenagers. Introduce your kids to IT from an early age whether it’s interactive website games or even playing apps on an iPad. There are thousands of sites to choose from and many educational apps to get kids coding from a young age.

Most young people use computers every day, but many have no understanding of how they actually work. To tackle this problem, let your child become familiar with technology and interested in IT from a young age. The sooner they are introduced to technology the better. Get them involved as technology evolves!

We’d also encourage you to make it clear to kids that STEM careers can be every bit as lucrative and respectable as the traditional aspirational professions, such as Medicine, Law and Accountancy. Too often careers teachers in schools can be too quick to write off engineering and software development in favour of these jobs, which is a big hindrance to our industry.

2. Shift those Stereotypes!

What image comes to mind when you picture a computer science student? – A geeky guy wearing glasses and glued to their laptop, playing computer games in their free time? Unfortunately, that’s what some people still think of.

But why are there so few girls?

People tend to stereotype IT students as “nerds”, painting it as an extremely difficult field. We’re not saying it isn’t, but that is no reason not to do it. All degrees are difficult! For this reason however, many girls decide from a young age that they aren’t capable of doing them. Accenture carried out a survey on 12-year-old females in the UK, revealing that 60% are put off STEM subjects because they are “too difficult to learn” with 47% thinking that it would be better suited for boys.

Girls are in fact shown to perform better in Stem subjects than boys at GCSE yet more boys are taking STEM subjects onto a higher level. Girls lack confidence! Try to encourage girls to shift those stereotypes. Girls, you are just as (if not more) capable as boys! Be Confident! As Beyoncé wisely said, “Who run the world? Girls!”

3. Embrace Social Media

It is hard to find someone today who doesn’t exist on at least one form of social media. Especially young people. If you are an IT related business definitely use social media to your advantage if you wish to target fresh young talent. Check out our social media for business blog for some tips!

If you are a parent and you are sick of telling your teenager off for constantly being on their phone, why not try and spark their interest to engage with social media in a way that doesn’t involve chatting to their friends on Facebook or posting selfies on Instagram. Social Media can be a great way to reach young people, and show off how relevant and engaging a STEM career can be.

4. Promote Work Experience

If a young person is in any way considering a career in IT or Software, encourage them to gain some work experience. Whether it’s a day or a week, any form of work experience is helpful as it gives you an insight into what that company is like and what the job entails. Here at Etain Ltd we love giving young people hands on experience, including both short-term insights and long-term placements. Our students work on projects across all aspects of the business, from software development to sales and marketing, showing off just how exciting and varied a career in software can be.

Many bigger firms also now offer job shadowing programs or career days. Job shadowing allows those interested in a specific field to follow an individual already working in that field for a day or a given amount of time. Work experience helps young people to understand what they really want or don’t want to do. It also allows employers in the industry to inspire potential new talent early. It’s a win-win situation!

5. Encourage Role Models

Introducing young people to role models can prove extremely effective. It allows young people to become inspired by the industry. Whether it is a guest speaker speaking on behalf of their university or school, or just someone on the TV, sparking this interest is vital. Shows such as The Big Bang Theory and BBC iPlayer Science and Nature are great for getting young people interested in science. Certainly role models such as Dara O’Brien and Brian Cox have made the STEM fields more appealing by helping to improve people’s perceptions of scientists.

6. Make it Fun!

The IT industry doesn’t always do a great job of presenting itself as being as dynamic and exciting as it really is. However, educators at all levels are doing great things to help fix this misperception. IT lessons in primary and secondary schools are increasingly using games development as an interesting point of entry to get kids coding from a young age. In higher education, courses have more and more focus on team based projects, which allow students to interact and share ideas whilst also coding together. Learning together is easier and more fun than learning alone! This also has the added benefit of being more like the working culture in the IT industry than individual project work.

7. Attend IT Related Events

Why not get involved with as many events and special programmes as possible. With Northern Ireland having the biggest IT skills shortage in the UK there has been a major effort to increase our numbers. Software development summer camps and App academies are fast becoming a common sight in Northern Irish schools. When young people are getting closer to University age, as a parent or teacher, why not suggest careers fairs to them where they can go and speak to people in the industry itself! Check out Belfast events online and you never know what you’ll find!

8. Do Your Reading

Many young people are put off careers in IT because they don’t have a clue what they involve. Maths is numbers, English is books, but what on earth does Computer Science involve. We know it’s computers and something scientific about computers but what exactly? What is coding? It’s certainly not something being taught enough at school.

When it comes to decision time, research course content on different University sites for a summary of what each course entails. Ask anyone who knows! Whether it’s someone at school, a family friend, don’t be afraid to ask anyone who can help! The more you ask, the less intimidated by the IT industry you’ll be. For women in particular, they can visit the websites of multiple professional organisations such as the Society of Women Engineers, Women in Technology International, Association for Women in Mathematics and Association of Women in Science, to name just a few.

9. Where's This All Heading?

At the end of the day, you want to get a job when you graduate, right? The technical and non-technical skills, expertise and knowledge gained in a Computer Science or related degree are important if you want to pursue a career in software development or programming. But don’t think your boxed in to your degree title for ever. At Etain, we have Biology, Economics and English graduates working for us. Conversely, the analytical skills learned in an IT degree will be transferable to just about any industry.

10. Be Supportive!

Whether you are a teacher or a parent, try and be as enthusiastic as possible about whatever career your child wishes to pursue. If they aren’t interested in IT that’s okay, there’s no sense in forcing them. As much as we want to encourage people into STEM subjects, the last thing any employer wants is someone who has chosen a career for all the wrong reasons!

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