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Growing the Industry: Talking tech in schools

Victoria MacLennan. 30 March 2023, 11:17 pm

For those of us who live and breathe digital tech we know how wonderful this industry can be, how well it can pay, how creative, rewarding and mentally stimulating the mahi (work) can be. Sadly we are only a tiny percentage of the population and unless someone in your immediate whānau works in our space most people have no idea - especially our tamariki (children). 

As an industry we are pretty confusing to understand and navigate so need to work on our image, language and many other issues with our industry that I won’t discuss here but do in many other posts. 

This blog has a call to action at the end, if you already know about the challenges of growing our industry then skip to the end and see how you can help today. 

Raising Awareness and Exposing the possibilities of digital technology careers

Career aspirations in young people are formed earlier than you might think, according to UK research 91% of 13-17 year olds have a dream job or basic career plans in mind. Gender and socioeconomic class (for want of a better phrase) play a big role in framing their future job expectations according to the World Economic Forum, this is further reinforced in the TEC report “Drawing the Future” which indicates children as young as 4 years old have career preferences based on gender. 

Our tamariki are influenced by a range of factors and people - their parents, TV, games, peers before we even start to think about how they are influenced in school. To be frank folks we have an image problem. 

That same TEC report asked 7-13 year olds what they want to do when they leave school - 

  • Sportsperson was #1, 
  • Social media/Youtuber/Influencer was #5, 
  • Gamer/Professional Gamer #13, 
  • Animator/Cartoonist #37, 
  • Game Designer/Developer makes it’s entrance at #40 and 
  • back in #45 with only 0.5% of the sample was IT (eg, consultant, programmer, technician, designer).  

Lack of awareness, lack of exposure to the possibilities of careers in digital technologies coupled with a heap of assumptions, myths and misconceptions. 

This image supplied with permission by Digital Future Aotearoa

“Young people need to be given the opportunity to meet a wide range of people from the world of work who can help bring learning to life and show them how the subjects they are studying are relevant to their futures. If they don’t know what opportunities are out there – if they have never seen a scientist or an engineer, a male nurse or a female firefighter – how can they aspire to such jobs?” World Economic Forum

It’s not just tamariki we need to update on jobs in digital tech, it’s their parents, teachers and other role models. If they can understand the opportunity this industry presents then they can encourage their whānau to train or even retrain to join the digital technology workforce. 

Dispelling myths and misconceptions

Prior to Covid I would speak to school groups about the opportunities digital technology offers. Depending on age group I would ask what a tech worker looks like - and every time I would be told about (often smelly) boys who write code and play games. At a rural north island high school, where forestry is one of the largest employers, I asked who wants to be a drone operator / programmer, virtually nobody put up their hands. Whereas the majority wanted to be truck drivers or forestry workers; after my talk when asked again who wants to be a drone operator or programmer more than half of the school put up their hands - once they were armed with the understanding they can still work in the forest, that they can still be part of their local community AND they can also work with awesome tech. While I miss these hugely rewarding opporuntities my role now is to enable others to become role models. 

What are the myths and misconceptions about our industry? 

  • It’s all about coding - we all know this isn’t the case, hey I haven’t been hands on tools in over 15 years now, there is a vast and diverse range of roles available today 
  • It’s only for hard core techo’s - perhaps once in the 1980’s? But not today, soft skills are the most valued skills in our industry, being able to convey concepts, speak to people and listen!
  • It’s just for men - with ~25% of the workforce women and no stats on non-binary or trans, it’s not great and is one of our image challenges to overcome
  • It’s all about startups - the media do paint a picture that the only great technology opportunities are with startups, which can be seen as high risk. Certainly in Aotearoa NZ the range of companies who employ digital technology workers is vast - every kind of business in fact

A lesser known myth is we have a high stress working environment, I think those closer to people who work in our industry share this view and to be fair my own children declared they would never work in tech after living with me on call 24x7 every 3 weeks for years of their lives. There are still some roles that are high stress - as there are in every industry - but the days of on call and last minute production releases are becoming less frequent. There are plenty of flexible working roles and opportunities in our industry. 

Next time you are at a BBQ and you are asked what you do, try to tell a creative positive work story rather than reinforcing these stereotypes. You never know who your neighbour or cousin might be an influencer for. 

Creating Role Models

We’ve all heard the saying “you can’t be what you can’t see”. Role models are important. They provide inspiration and motivation, guidance and direction, help break down the barriers, dispel myths and showcase diversity, they encourage possibilities and help build a strong community. 

Hearing from someone who looks like you or went to your school or came from a similar family background telling their story, of their stimulating impactful job, is powerful. Not all role models have to overcome adversity or be leaders in the traditional sense, they just need to connect in a specific and meaningful way. Being seen, telling your story, providing encouragement to achieve goals and talking about how digital technology careers can facilitate achieving those goals, is the important part. 

Role models lead to opportunities and we can all be role models. 

The call to action

With term 1 coming to an end the ITP team are talking to school teachers and principals about arranging talks in schools - the talks are for 30 minutes, they can be in person or virtual, for a single classroom, a syndicate or a whole school. The talks can be a one off or a series. The options are very open and dependant on what schools want to engage on. 

We need you - your stories, your experiences, your inspiration to help open minds, tell stories and create opportunities. If you think this is something you can offer between now and the end of the year then email us [email protected] and let us know you are able to provide a Tech talk in a school. 

  • The important thing to note here is we have an existing framework and connections, so on behalf of teachers our ask is you coordinate your offers to speak via us rather than knocking on doors directly. 

Meanwhile, the government is committing funds to a programme they are calling the domestic tech story, this will be a national awareness campaign designed to create exposure to pathways into digital technology roles. 

If you would prefer to be a little more hands on consider volunteering for Code Club. Code Clubs have really changed, check out the digital pīkau of resources you can work with. There are clubs who design jewellery on software then go on to make it, clubs who focus on gaming, clubs who focus on robotics. So many different opportunities. 

So email us. [email protected] and we will work with you to find ways you can give back to community. Ngā mihi nui, Vic 

This is one post in a series of blog posts on Growing the Industry: 


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