This month saw the first anniversary and launch of Cardiff University’s National Software Academy in Newport, welcomed by Julie James, Minister for Skills and Science. The NSA offers an innovative degree-programme whereby students work alongside experienced software engineers from leading organisations on real-life projects throughout their three years of study.
This gives the students first-hand experience of what it is like to work in the field, also equipping them with the skills to make them ‘work-ready’ when they graduate. One of the students I met said she felt she was getting the full Cardiff University ‘experience’, living in Cardiff and commuting to Newport daily, much as she would a job, training her in the discipline of attending work.
Computer science covers a great many job roles, way beyond pure programming roles, and is an industry that encourages a creative, innovative side. Not only is a career in computer science extremely exciting and rewarding, graduates are also well sought after – according to recent research by The Tech Partnership, over 50% of businesses in the digital sector have reported hard-to-fill vacancies.
A 2012 report by Welsh Government identified the need for 3,100 new IT professionals each year in order to meet the existing demand, and the National Software Academy is going some way to achieve this.
However there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed if we are to get anywhere close to these numbers, and that is the lack of females choosing to study computer science. The NSA is bucking the trend with a 50:50 ratio of male and female staff and above average numbers of female undergraduate students – but the problem is systematic and more must be done to convince girls that a career in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is exciting, rewarding and well-paid.
This month 60 high-school girls from across South Wales visited Cardiff University to learn more about a career in computer coding and cyber security, and getting girls out of the classroom and into an inspiring environment is key to unlocking their curiosity and showing the benefits of a career in computer science and STEM more generally.
Our next challenge is to find new accommodation for the NSA as the numbers grow quickly, so that current and future student intakes can be housed together.