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Encouraging young girls into STEM and supporting women in tech in NI

  • Written by Carol Fitzsimons CEO, Young Enterprise NI

    Young Enterprise believes in integrating STEM into all aspects of learning. We believe in showcasing tech and female role models to our students. And we believe it’s essential to start from a young age.

    The charity provides enterprise, employability and entrepreneurship skills training to over 90,000 young people aged 4-25 in Primary & Post Primary schools, community groups, and Further and Higher Education throughout Northern Ireland each year.

    We partner with over 400 schools and 900+ business mentors from across the business community.

    When students get the opportunity to set up and run their own business at school age, they learn about all the aspects of business such as product design, customer experience, marketing and selling their own products in order to maximise sales. They are also given the chance to see how they can apply technology to their product and learn about how STEM and tech are relevant to every aspect of business, and the importance of digital skills as a critical skill for the workplace they will inhabit. This may take the form of developing an app to meet a customer need, the use of digital marketing tools to promote their product, or making use of digital technology to design and manufacture a new product for sale. Though exposure to the role of technology in their business, students from all subject areas learn the importance of understanding the application of technology for any future job role or business start-up.

    One example is YE alumna, Sarah McBride, who took part in our Company programme a few years ago and now works in the States in the tech sector. As a non-STEM student, she believed she couldn’t work in the tech sector. Her student business developed a homework app, with someone else in the team taking on the role of app developer, whilst she ran the business. As a result, she recognised that a career in tech was open to her, just not necessarily in a development role. If we want to see more young women in tech, we need to ensure that the pathway to the sector is kept open for them, with opportunities to upskill, such as through employment academies, or companies investing in staff development.

    It is often said that you can’t be what you can’t see, and this is particularly true when it comes to role models in business for young women. The Young Enterprise includes tech entrepreneur Mary McKenna and Venture Capitalist, Jayne Brady, and we have a wide range of female business mentors that go out to the classroom, ensuring students & teachers see women as active participants in the sector.

    Starting from a young age and nurturing digital skills through all areas of the curriculum is critical. Understanding the application of digital technology to all areas of business is a key aspect of what we do. In our Primary schools, there is strong use of technology for the delivery of all subject areas, and it is vital that we retain the excitement for STEM as students move in to the Post Primary sector.

    In Young Enterprise, that’s about bringing it to life and helping students to visualise how it will be a skill they can benefit from in the future, and understand the excitement of technology developments to solve problems for society as they move into the world of work and business start-up.

    The charity is funded through the Department of Education, business supporters, trusts and foundations, and is seeking businesses to come on board to allow more young people to have the opportunity to get involved.

    This article first appeared in the Women in Tech special edition of the Sync NI magazine. You can download a FREE copy here. 

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