Where are the next generation of Kiwi programmers?
This is an important question for a software company such as Orion Health, which in common with many successful New Zealand tech companies, struggles to find a sustainable pipeline of skilled staff.
To answer that question, I need to welcome you to my world – the world of ICT outreach – where we encourage, inspire and teach students about technology and the awesome opportunities and possibilities it has to offer. I say ‘we’ as there is a small army of dedicated people organising Code Clubs, Geek Camps and junior hackathons, volunteering for OMG Tech, encouraging more girls into tech with She# events and so on.
From my experience there are two groups of young people attracted to a career in computer science:
- students who have been inspired or encouraged by someone in their family who already works in tech, or
- students with parents/caregivers who ‘get it’.
But don’t just take my word for it. There is a growing amount of research globally which shows that if a child is exposed to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) before the age of 11/12, they don’t form the classic negative stereo type that it’s geeky, boring or too difficult for them. This is crucial for encouraging kids to pursue careers in these fields.
So much relies on parents’ understanding about the opportunities in the tech industry so they can encourage their child to pursue a career in it.
Earlier this year I was representing OMG Tech! (an organisation that encourages young children to get excited about technology) at a tradeshow event in New Plymouth. One of the other exhibitors asked if her daughter could take part in the 3D printing workshop. We said we would love to have her, but that she had to participate in the other two workshops as well, which were coding and robotics. The mother was hesitant, saying that her daughter enjoyed design but didn’t think she’d enjoy the coding or robotics workshops. Needless to say, the following day her daughter turned up and tried out all the workshops. When we asked her at the end of the day which one she enjoyed the most, she said she REALLY enjoyed robotics!
Although this was a small triumph in encouraging another young kiwi (and her mum) to embrace technology, it’s not enough! It is only when technology becomes a mainstream subject, understood and embraced by everyone, that we will make any headway in growing the pipeline of skilled individuals working in New Zealand’s tech sector.
Orion Health works with other leading New Zealand companies and industry groups to encourage more young people to consider technology careers. CEO Ian McCrae recently signed an Open Letter to the Minister of Education calling for greater change in the way Digital Technologies is taught in secondary schools.