The importance of STEM projects and youth opportunity

The future of FinTech diversity relies on us attracting a diverse group of children into STEM subjects to tackle the issue from grass roots level up...

Ahead of our first STEM project on the 22nd November, we interview Sylvia Stevenson, who is a member of DiversiTech Hub, COE of Diversity and Inclusion at Finastra and a mentor to a number of young kids, working with them through The Joshua Project to inspire them and keep them away from the NEET trap.... in other words, a modern day super hero!

What does real opportunity look like?

According to the Office for National Statistics, in the period from April to June 2019, there were 792,000 young people aged 16 to 24 years in the UK, who were not in education, employment or training (NEET).  This was an increase of 14,000 from last quarter. I asked myself, “Where are we missing the trick?”

So I decided to spend some time with local community leaders to find out what they thought was driving this negative trajectory. Here’s what they told me: -

·      “We have a lot of people telling us about opportunities, but we’re struggling to understand what these opportunities actually are and who they are targeted at!”

·      “We hear about opportunities for young people from large corporate companies, yet we have no way of accessing them!”

Even more concerning is a new trend among 16 to 18-year olds, who are becoming socially isolated. So even if opportunities are created, there is less take-up from young people who prefer to ‘hole-up’ in their bedrooms, playing games and connecting online with faceless allies, rapidly forming virtual families.

So again I ask, what does real opportunity look like?

Recently, during a coaching session with 20 students between the ages of 13 – 16 years, I asked them about their career aspirations. I was met with blank looks, confused frowns and eyes on the floor! Seeing an opportunity to introduce the topic of STEM careers, for the first time during that lesson, I saw subtle signs of interest – blank looks became more questioning, confused frowns began to soften and most eyes were on me. Yes – I found a pulse!

In reflecting on that pivotal moment, there were a few underlying trends which provided some insight into what a lifeline for today’s Generation Zs could be.

·      The concept of technology was very appealing. This is a generation also known as the Digital Ninjas, who were born with mobile phones in their hands. They have grown up with technology all around them and cannot imagine a world without mobile phones, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snap Chat and other social media.

·      They are proactive about their immediate personal needs and reactive about societal needs, which form a crucial part of life skills.

·      The most significant point from this discussion was the need for fun. According to research published in the book “301 Ways to Have Fun at Work,” there is a direct link between the extent to which employees have fun and productivity, creativity and innovation. This can also be linked to STEM careers and the evolution of future technology.

The truth is, the world is changing at rapid pace and there are vast differences between the different generations. Today’s young people naturally sync with the cycles of life – predominantly driven by technology. They want options and the flexibility to change their minds at will. They want space to explore, collaborate and create without the barriers of rules, regulation and process. The words, stability, longevity and endurance are not necessarily appealing to the youth of today whose adrenaline is fuelled by the latest gadget, the coolest app and the quickest data access. The easy-going, high-spirited attitude of youth can do wonders in the workplace, not to mention the vast possibilities for STEM careers. The challenge therefore is having early intervention to create awareness and education on STEM careers, before inertia and demotivation set in.

So what does real opportunity look like?

When all is said and done, the simple answer is QUALITY TIME. Time to listen; time to share information; time to take real action in connecting young people to their purpose in STEM. It’s about creating a safe space to help them unleash their potential, which in the end is of great value for many stakeholders!

We must make opportunities accessible to our youth by sharing the HOW rather than the WHAT. If we keep our youth in mind, we might as well give them the time!

COE, Diversity & Inclusion, Finastra

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