1,000 female students to access STEM careers in Northern Ireland

Government launches new work experience programme with Speakers for Schools to inspire the next generation of Northern Irish female scientists, engineers and innovators

By Claire Cartmill
Friday, 4th March 2022, 7:00 am
Emer, Shayna and Danielle
Emer, Shayna and Danielle

Over 10 leading employers have partnered with social mobility charity Speakers for Schools, the Department for Economy and Pulsar Women in STEM, to introduce Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) related careers to 1,000 female students across Northern Ireland.

Starting in April 2022, those aged 14-18 are invited to sign up to free virtual work experience with employers such as Kainos, PwC, CAFRE, Greiner Packaging, Seagate, Fintru, NIE Networks, Manufacturing NI, Graham, Northern Ireland Screen, and TriMedika.

The importance of STEM expertise to the NI economy is accepted as key to maintaining international competitiveness.

Emer Murnaghan OBE, DfE Women in STEM Steering Group and Pulsar with Danielle Keenan, social responsibility manager at Kainos and Shayna Velasquez, student from Aquinas Diocesan Grammar School, who recently did work experience with Kainos

However, at present, there are not enough young people choosing science-related subjects to maintain a ready supply of skilled STEM specialists. Research from MATRIX points to a decline in in girls opting to study core STEM subjects between GCSE and A-Level/Further Education (FE)since 2014/15.

This new initiative between the Department for Economy, Speakers for Schools and Pulsar Women in STEM seeks to encourage more female students into STEM subjects with the aim of tackling the current skills shortages.

The scheme will introduce female role models in STEM careers, demystify roles in different sectors and build key skills such as confidence.

Gordon Lyons, Minister for the Economy, said: “Increasing the number of women in STEM is at the heart of my Department’s Vision for a 10X Economy. The gender imbalance in the STEM workforce is an increasingly urgent issue, both economically and socially, and if we are to reach our full economic potential we must create an environment that encourages women and girls to study and take up careers in science and technology.

“I want to ensure that not only do we have the economic strengths we need to deliver the 10X ambition, but also that we improve opportunities for girls and women. While there is much we can do to improve the situation in the short to medium term, we must hold to the course if Northern Ireland wants a long term sustainable workforce. However, if we do so, the benefits for our whole society will be enormous.”

Jason Elsom, chief executive officer, Speakers for Schools, explained: “There is no limit to the impact of technology on careers of the future. There are many opportunities for the next generation, from fashion to augmented reality and even space exploration. This exciting partnership promises to shine a light on the many career opportunities that tomorrow’s world holds for young people in Northern Ireland.”

Shayna Velasquez, a student from Aquinas Diocesan Grammar School in Belfast, recently did work experience with Kainos and explained: “I learned a lot from my work experience at Kainos, invaluable content that one would not typically learn from school curriculums. On the virtual work experience, we were able to competitively work on our game and web development skills in CodeCombat. I learned the importance of teamwork and collaboration within the field and how communication amongst your teammates is the key to success. I would like to explore routes into Artificial Intelligence, Cyber Security, Software Engineering or Web Development.”

Danielle Keenan, social responsibility manager at Kainos, added: “At Kainos, we are committed to widening access to careers in computing for young people and members of under-represented groups to ensure they have the digital skills required for the future of work. We’re excited to build on our partnership with Speakers for Schools and to be a part of this amazing opportunity for young women. Our work experience programme has been designed to engage and inspire, and we can’t wait to give participants an incredible insight into their potential future!”

Emer Murnaghan OBE, DfE Women in STEM Steering Group and Pulsar, concluded: “The business case for diversity in the workplace is very clear – Diversity & Inclusion is essential if we are to become more innovative, drive productivity, improve profits and sustain our business. Addressing the significant gender imbalance in Northern Ireland’s STEM sectors is critical to our success. Breaking down barriers and encouraging girls and young women to remain in the STEM skills pipeline by delivering initiatives such as this in Northern Ireland where girls can explore the many varied, well paid, interesting and in-demand STEM career opportunities within their reach is an important step. We are delighted to work with the Department for the Economy and Speakers for Schools to inspire the next generation of women in STEM.”

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