The importance of role models within the IT industry is vital to inspire the next generation of IT professionals, according to the UK chief executive of Cisco Phil Smith.
Talking to V3 at the firm's Cisco Live last week for our Make IT Better campaign, Smith, who also heads up the e-Skills UK industry board, said he is well aware of the skills shortages facing the IT sector and believes many of the problems stem from the perception of working in the industry.
In an anecdote about Cisco's own push for apprentices in the UK, Smith explains the importance of making sure the industry does everything it can to try and entice young people, especially girls to the sector.
"In the first year we issued a call for apprenticeships and we actually had a 60/40 split of female to males," he said.
"The following year, the ad we put out calling for apprentices used the term system engineers. We had just 18 people apply, only two of which were girls and they didn't even show up to the interview."
"So we realised something was up and changed the advert to simply remove the world engineer. The rest of the wording was exactly the same, mentioning problem solving, working with technology and so on - and after that it went back to a 60/40 female/male split."
For Smith this underlines the importance of remembering that young people's perception of the technology industry will be different to those already working in it and the important thing is to provide role models for young people to see and aspire too.
"Companies should push role models. For example, we have Padma [Padmarsee Warrior, Cisco chief technology officer] doing the [Cisco Live] keynote, and that gives people an idea of someone they can look at and think, ‘I want to be doing that'."
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