Is Scotland’s position as one of the pioneers of scientific and technological discovery under threat?
According to the BBC, several Scottish councils have warned that they are finding it difficult to recruit new science, technology and maths teachers. In particular, the Fife, North Lanarkshire and Moray council areas said that they had difficulties in attracting teachers to apply for roles.
The news comes amid calls by academics from the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Computing Science Education – launched on September 1st – to teach children as young as five basic computer skills. The CCSE aims to put computing studies at the centre of education instead of as an optional course taken in secondary school or beyond, which could close a 10,000-strong vacancy gap which The Herald claims goes unfilled in Scottish IT roles every year. Additionally, there was reportedly a 14% drop in the number of computing science teachers between 2014 and 2016.
To find out how these gaps can be bridged, DIGIT interviewed representatives of two Scottish organisations working with businesses and leaders in STEM sectors to give young people the widest possible range of opportunities to engage with scientific and technological fields.
DIGIT first spoke Claire Gillespie, Digital Technologies Sector Skills Manager at Skills Development Scotland. Claire told DIGIT that the skills-gap in Scotland is well-documented, and that SDS is committed to remedying skills disparities though research and practical offerings.
Claire said to DIGIT: “As part of the Digital Technologies Skills Investment Plan (created by SDS) there are a number of programmes supporting the development of digital talent. Areas include Digital Xtra, a coordinated public and private sector approach to supporting out of school digital/computing related skills activities. This has allowed us to support increased numbers of young people to develop digital skills and we have attained an almost 50/50 gender split in participants.
“There is a wide range of apprenticeship programmes across all STEM sectors and we work with industry to ensure we are aware of future areas they may be looking for apprenticeship frameworks in.
“We also worked with industry to develop Digital World, which specifically promotes the tech sector as a career of choice. This builds on MyWorldofWork online careers platform and provides information on all STEM jobs and careers.”
That 50/50 ratio is quite an achievement. A foundation of Scotland’s tech-skills-gap is a disparity in uptake between the genders, as Claire noted. Claire said to DIGIT: “To address gender imbalance we need to ensure girls have the opportunities to enter rewarding and interesting careers, and that employers have access to a full talent pool. We undertook research into the tech gender imbalance that indicated many gender and career stereotypes begin early, it is important we work with schools and education to address this. It also indicated that girls are interested in technology and tech subjects and we need to make sure we support them to maintain this interest into tech and tech related careers.”
Amanda Gray is the Scottish Stemette, leading the UK-wide Stemette campaign north of the border. Amanda told DIGIT that Stemettes is an organisation working hard to promote STEM to younger girls and female students up and down the country. The group hosts events, runs workshops and connects with women already in STEM industries.
Amanda noted that there were plenty of promising signs for women across the Scottish landscape, but the trick was fostering this enthusiasm. Amanda said to DIGIT: “If gender-parity in STEM uptake is allowed to continue society can expect continued overall gender inequality, a continued gender pay gap and continued labour shortages in these key industries. That means us having poor innovation, second-class citizens and fewer viable solutions to the problems we have as a society and globally.
“Stemettes was co-founded four years ago, and so far we have impacted over 15,000 girls directly via our events, school trips and programmes across the UK, Ireland and Europe. These girls are aged between 5 and 22 and come from all sorts of backgrounds. The aim by 2020 is to impact 2 million girls.
“Why? Because there is demand from the young women themselves to have a space to flourish and explore STEM in a ‘safe space’ away from society’s gender stereotypes. Nobody will say, “girls don’t do that”, at a Stemettes event.
“How? Our motto is ‘FREE. FUN. FOOD.’ Our events are always free for the girls, they are always fun for the girls, and there is always food for the girls.”
Transforming the status quo
Amanda also told DIGIT that there were plenty of ways that Stemettes was engaging particularly girls with Scotland’s STEM fields. She said: “Stemettes is an award winning social enterprise with a mission to show the next generation that girls do STEM too. The Stemettes mission is to get more girls into STEM by running mostly girl-only events. There is a range of opportunities to get involved.
“For schools, there are Stemillions clubs – run by girls, for girls. They get weekly STEM activities and female role models to learn about. Stemettes also visit schools to do activities like app building and take girls out of school to visit the industry.
“Stemettes run public events for girls and their influencers. These include weekend hackathons and panels discussions. Student to Stemette is a ‘more-than-mentoring’ programme for young women to be connected with females already working in the STEM industry.”
Amanda highlighted that the Stemettes organisation has even co-produced its own film. Amanda said: “Outbox started off as an incubator programme for young women to develop their STEM entrepreneurship skills in summer 2015. It became the documentary ‘Eat. Sleep. STEM. Repeat.’ designed to inspire other young women into STEM. It previewed to over 30,000 school children in early 2017 and will soon be appearing on Amazon Prime.”
Skills Development Scotland and Stemettes also highlighted the importance of keeping their programmes as current as possible to keep up with Scotland’s fast-moving science and technological sectors.
Claire noted that active engagement with STEM businesses was the best way to stay on top of them. Claire said to DIGIT: “In addition to modern apprenticeships, SDS has developed Graduate Level Apprenticeships in response to employer demand. This means you can gain a work based degree level qualification whilst in employment.
“SDS also undertakes evidence gathering to understand industry demand and need in order to inform support the development of qualifications.
“We also work with partners like SQA and recently established a Technology Industry Advisory Board to guide the development of school and college qualifications.”
Amanda also said that Stemettes’s finger was on the pulse, while maintaining as much creativity in the outreach programmes as possible. Amanda said to DIGIT: “The team is constantly developing new ways to have positive impact with girls and young women. We are responsive to both the labour trends and what the young women ask for and need.
“For example, the technology industry is crying out for young talent. Engaging girls at a young age with technology via fun events like hackathons will encourage them to take up computer science at school and join the pipeline into the tech industry. Also, in response to girls in our Stemillions clubs asking for leadership skills, we developed a series of Summer Leadership Academy days which was run throughout August 2017. Girls from all over the UK travelled to London to take part in these days.
“OtotheB is our app. It is constantly filled with new content including role model profiles, career advice, competitions and feature pieces on different STEM careers.
You can read more about Stemettes’s next event, Monster Confidence, here. It will be held in Edinburgh NEXT MONTH on October 6th at Heriot-Watt University. Make sure to register if you’re a young woman – from school to university – looking to develop themselves in STEM.
DIGIT would like to thank Claire Gillespie and Amanda Gray for their comments on Scottish skills and STEM. DIGIT would also like to thank Jamie MacDonald, Jennifer McClure and Jane Lynchehaun of Hot Tin Roof.