The world of computers is still mostly a male one but a new scheme aims to change all that. Karen Shead reports
The girls from All Saints' Secondary in Glasgow were impressed as they walked into the boardroom at JP Morgan Chase. The large U-shape table, high-back leather chairs and modern interior were certainly a change from their everyday classroom environment.
The group of 18 second-year girls were attending a Go4It workshop organised by e-skills UK, the body responsible for developing the professional skills in the information technology and telecommunications industry. The aim was to promote a positive and exciting image of the industry, encourage the girls to find out more and sow the seeds of desire for a career in IT.
JP Morgan Chase works with local schools and universities to promote the wide range of roles and careers that can be offered by an investment bank.
Its Glasgow city centre base has a dynamic and creative software development workforce of about 450, most of whom are IT graduates.
National statistics show that only one-fifth of the IT workforce is female, but e-skills UK hopes to increase the attractiveness of the industry by addressing some of the misconceptions girls may have about working in this field.
The workshops project was piloted last year: 37 workshops were held in England and five in Scotland (with funding from Scottish Enterprise). This year nine workshops took place in Scotland during February, involving nine schools and eight companies. The workshops are set to take place again next year, provided funding is secured.
Genny Dixon, a project manager for e-skills UK, explains: "Part of our role is to look at developing the employees of the future so that when they come out of school and university they are equipped with the skills that will help them in the workplace. We want to change the idea people have that if you work in IT you are boring and sit in front of a computer all day."
The workshops give students the chance to talk to someone who has recently joined the industry, find out about the skills and background needed for various roles and consider how to plan their education and out-of-school activities for a better chance of getting into the industry.
Mariam Naeem and Jehane Penfold-Ward led the session for the girls from All Saints' Secondary, which began with introductions and descriptions of their roles in the graduate employment scheme. John Holland joined them to explain his role with the company as investment management operate.
After a presentation by Mrs Dixon of technological advances, from early mobile telephones to the latest models and from gramophones to ghetto blasters to pocket-size digital music players, the students were asked to think about an invention they would like to see in the future.
"Imagine something that you would like to see that uses computer science in the background, something that exists and you want to update or something completely new," said Mrs Dixon. "Then you are going to have to present the idea."
After the ideas have been presented and the teams of girls judged for their teamwork, communication skills and presentation as well as the product, they were set another task.
They were asked to write two lists, one of jobs that involve IT, the other of jobs that don't. Then they discussed how clowns, ice-cream sellers or fishermen might use IT in their jobs.
Mrs Dixon said after the session: "One of the questions we ask is, 'Has the workshop made you more likely to want to work in ICT?' The lowest response has been 80 per cent saying yes."
Elaine Wingate, a computer and business studies teacher at All Saints'
Secondary, said: "The workshops are very useful. Pupils see the skills they are working with and use their imaginations.
"It's also good to see how a large business operates and to meet people in these organisations. It's a social experience too."
"It's rewarding to see the girls get involved," Mrs Dixon said. "We want to show them something which is exciting for them to get into. Any work we can do which challenges the stereotypes most people have of working in IT has to be doing some good."
Another e-skills UK project, Computers Clubs For Girls, for 10- to 13-year-olds is being piloted in England and is set to expand to Scotland in the autumn. See www.cc4g.net