As the mainframe platform evolves with new capabilities — and even as it moves to the hybrid cloud environment — enterprises will need all the skilled workers they can find. Part of that pipeline-building process is ensuring that the next generation of workers are engaged in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM). Last year in Forbes, Bernard Marr wrote that educators say that STEAM recognizes the importance of creativity and innovation in solving problems. These are just the skills that mainframe professionals need to keep their enterprises running effectively and securely into the future.
Jarad Ford, corporate program manager for P-Tech at IBM, says, "Technology has become increasingly ubiquitous in the accessibility of learning new skills and navigating the evolving environment of the 21st century. Globally, the deep integration of STEAM in our societies is what will drive technological progress." While not every student will become an engineer or data scientist, Melissa Sassi, Chief Penguin at IBM Z, explains, "To be prepared for the future of work, students must be digitally skilled and ready. Without understanding the basic building blocks of computer science, for example, students will be left behind."
Ford also points out that industries from finance and medicine to entertainment are expanding, and "the need for innovators and digital creators will continue to increase as technology will eventually integrate even further into our daily lives." He adds, "Complex computing systems, such as artificial intelligence, will eventually require immense computing power. The idea is that STEAM will continue to be relevant to society and be integral to developing the pipeline of innovation and access to learning."
The need for innovators and digital creators will continue to increase as technology will eventually integrate even further into our daily lives.
Start Students Early
Students should start as early as possible, even if that means informal education at the age of four and beyond the classroom, according to Sassi. "I love the work that code.org does with Hour of Code, as well as Scratch from MIT to demystify computer science," she says. "I'm also seeing some incredibly powerful innovations coming from LEGO and their work leveraging the Digital Skills & Readiness Framework from the DQ Institute. Another organization doing some amazing things in the space is Micro:bit. Who doesn’t want to learn how to create IOT devices and build their own mobile applications? It sure beats plopping in front of the television, right?"
Ford agrees that starting kids early — even at the age of two — can be beneficial. Today, kids already interact with their parents' phones for entertainment. "When my five-year-old nephew spoke a couple words in Spanish and I asked him how he learned it, he responded, 'Siri taught me'," he recalls. Ford says that educational institutions can introduce students early on to learning technology in controlled settings, making those opportunities feel natural and measuring the impact. Komal Mann, IBM Z Ambassador and president of zStudents of Chandigahr University, agrees, stating, "When it comes to learning new concepts, children are always full of curiosity and enthusiasm to learn."
Sassi suggests that educators and the technology industry modify the way we talk about STEAM. "Computer science, for example, often sounds like this scary scientific math thing for a dude in the basement hacking away in a hoodie eating cold pizza. That is so incredibly far from reality on-the-ground for those of us working in technology," she says. Sassi advises that educators and others emphasize "the important connection between tech and the arts where, in my mind, computer science is more about innovation, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, and computational thinking than how it is viewed by many people who might find it mystical and 'not for me.'"
Mann agrees that STEAM education goes beyond the usual schooling. "It gives a skill set that pushes our understanding of the universe and helps prepare students for the demands of the future," she says. "Understanding STEAM fosters creativity and equips learners with the skills necessary to tackle real-world challenges." Darren Surch, COO at Interskill, adds that STEAM is the model we need to aspire to in education today. He says, "Current education methods were designed to prepare students for very different jobs, and STEAM will prepare students for careers in the modern world."
Current education methods were designed to prepare students for very different jobs, and STEAM will prepare students for careers in the modern world.
Businesses Lead the Way
Schools are part of the community and the primary way students learn new skills. Ford says, "By partnering with education institutions and community organizations to provide opportunities for students to engage with different forms of technology, develop foundational business acumen, and have access to career-readiness learning, we can take the preliminary steps to garnering a culture and audience." He proposes, "What this might look like could be offering free workshops for student learning, partnering with schools to increase mentorship opportunities, and building relationships with industry professionals."
In 2020, Ford facilitated a design-thinking experience for the students at P-TECH Panther, during which the students and IBM and ADP volunteers collaborated and created a mobile app. He says that ideating, empathy mapping, and setting goals were part of the exercises. Throughout the process, volunteers helped students work through real-world issues, demonstrating the various roles needed to create technology projects.
Mann says that, from her perspective as a student, "the best way enterprises can play a role in generating interest among students is by actively engaging with them." She adds, "We are mostly interested in concepts that we’ll be able to apply in a real-world environment. Enterprises should share how they apply STEAM to run their businesses and solve real-life problems as a way to inspire students."
Additionally, she advises the use of project-based learning to attract student interest in STEAM because it should be more than just theoretical lesson plans. She says that this can be achieved through insightful workshops, frequent competitions, and other opportunities. These experiences not only allow students to understand important STEAM concepts, but also how to leverage those skills and encourage others to explore the possibilities of technology careers.
As IBM's Chief Penguin, Sassi works with the Student & Entrepreneur Experience team worldwide, which helps students prepare for the future of work. She created a content and talk series on a trifecta of skills: (1) digital skills and readiness; (2) habitudes (habits + attitudes = habitudes), also known as personal/professional development/soft skills; and, (3) entrepreneurial thinking. "Working with students on their journeys led me to create the IBM Z Global Student Hub, a free digital space for students (informal and formal) to build their trifecta of skills; meet like-minded students and peers; craft their personal brand; take part in student contests, such as IBM Z Xplore; give forward in their communities, earn badges; win prizes; and, join our biweekly livestream that is entirely for, with, and by youth — StudentX," she shared.
Tips for Business Engagement
1. Connect learning to opportunity
2. Commit to long-term engagement and support for students
3. Be inclusive and diverse
4. Be intentional with the program's focus and investments
Ford says the most successful businesses will be those who don't only focus on creating a pipeline of talent. Learning opportunities need to be more than just about the business. They must provide students with opportunities to explore and create, as well as provide students with ownership over those creations. These programs will require long-term engagement and support. "The framework of connecting learning to opportunity may be one that has complex layers and might look much different in each setting, but, even more so, it will be the backbone of trust and buy-in from your constituents," he says.
"Be sure to facilitate and provide learning and engagement opportunities for students of all backgrounds," adds Ford. "Being aware and cognizant of those who typically are excluded from STEAM spaces, means they should have a seat at the table. Whether an individual is neurodiverse or is part of a group of people who are statistically unrepresented in STEAM, we need their input." He explains that building these programs should be intentional, ensuring students can flourish academically and professionally.
Sassi's tips and tricks for encouraging students in STEAM via activities and curriculum are similar:
- Build your program with youth being part of the core working group
- Create a student ambassador program to enable you to gain access to insights over time
- Make your content and assets fun and engaging
- Be diverse and inclusive in your programming where different types of students with different genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds are part of the mix
- Start to talk about how computer science is more of an art form
- Volunteer with local schools and associations to share your skills forward
- Put your money into organizations that are out there making a difference for youth in STEAM (e.g., Black Girls Code, code.org, Women Who Code, the DQ Institute, etc.)
Sassi explains that if you don't engage students, you are unlikely to be successful. Enterprises need to put students in the driver's seat and ensure that they can engage with the brand or team on an ongoing basis. Listening to students and incorporating their feedback into programs also can improve results. Further, enterprises need to include those who are currently underrepresented in tech. For instance, she explains, only 28% of the technology workforce is made up by women. Sassi also shared that current mainframe professionals can take it a step further by volunteering in schools where there is a shortage of computer science teachers.
Surch, of Interskill, says, "In my world and in SHARE’s world, having the zNextGeneration armed not only with mainframe technical skills but with priceless technology literacy, social and, communication skills, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, curiosity, decision making, leadership skills, and more, will keep the mainframe workforce vibrant, agile, innovative, and empowered." Sassi takes it a step further, explaining that it "is incumbent upon businesses to lend a helping hand to the next generation of leaders to ensure they are transitioning from consumers of technology into creators, makers, and doers empowered by technology."
Lend a helping hand to the next generation of leaders to ensure they are transitioning from consumers of technology into creators, makers, and doers empowered by technology.
Ford concurs, "Progress requires diligence, and championing innovation must include sowing the seeds of knowledge into our youth." Mann says that students need STEAM to keep up with the changing world, noting that, in the process, students can accelerate their own personal development and future career success.
Students can take what they've learned and apply those critical thinking and problem-solving skills to real-world problems to find effective solutions. In the future, the next generation will be expected to keep up with the accelerated pace of change and take the lead in the innovations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. STEAM is the fuel students need to meet those needs.