Schools aren't feeding the tech pipeline

The education system misses advertising tech as a career path, said delegates at the Women in IT Festival last week

Tom Allen
clock • 3 min read
Schools aren't feeding the tech pipeline

Every year, thousands of new people enter the workforce, but only a minority pursue careers in tech - and only a minority of those are women.

Although coding is now taught in schools and some students might be lucky enough to learn what a developer does, we're far from having solved the challenge of the tech pipeline. Demand is rising at an ever-increasing rate, but supply is largely static, and we can't simply wait for a critical mass of potential new coders to build up.

Female tech professionals at the first day of the Women in Technology Festival last week said schools are missing out on advertising technology as a career path.

Responding to a question by session host Bronwyn Boyle, CISO of Mambu, one woman gave the example of a friend who works at a grammar school:

"It's a technology school, massively strong in the sciences, and about 90% of her cohort want to be lawyers or doctors, because that's what their families suggest that they do.

"There is no real evidence in the education system that technology is a career path. I think that that's the fundamental challenge that we've got, and it comes down to education. It comes down to educating parents, and it comes down to education at a much younger age for the children - we have to be going down to eight-to-ten-year olds to have this conversation, before they even embark on choosing any kind of subjects at a secondary school level, and really show them what technology means."

"How do kids get exposed to [technology]?" asked Boyle. "It's probably not going to be at school, it's going to be from passionate people like us."

One delegate asked others, "How do I get the word out [about parts of tech other than coding]? Do I call up my son's school and invite myself in?"

The answer was a whole-room "Yes," but people had other advice.

"Try volunteering," said one woman. "I'm going to volunteer in a youth club, talking to children as young as seven but up to teenagers and helping them with their careers - helping them with their CV or with any potential questions an interviewer might ask."

"My friends joke that I'm a transponster"

Another aspect to the lacking tech-education pipeline is awareness around different roles in the industry. While most people know what a programmer or a cyber analyst does, saying you work in IT governance or change management is greeted with a blank stare.

"It's our responsibility to actually explain it to people, rather than say, 'Oh, you know, it's important', and just ending the conversation," said an attendee. "We know if it was a man saying, 'This is what I do', and someone doesn't know [what that is], they will spend time explaining why it's a good job and why it's important... It's important for us to say, 'This is what I do, and this is how it works.'"

"My friends have an ongoing joke that I'm a transponster, and I don't bother ever explaining it," said another woman. "I work in change management."

It's not a hopeless situation. The coming generation has a huge advantage over those that came before: after all, they're growing up with technology. Children as young as two or three can use touch screens, and from there it's relatively easy to continue to engage their curiosity and interest.

"Just asking the questions, building curiosity, encouraging them to try everything and give it a go is probably the best way to do it on a smaller scale - and hopefully that fosters things and it grows out from there."

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