Thursday, February 02, 2017

I WISH founders Caroline O’Driscoll, Ruth Buckley and Gillian Keating. I WISH is an initiative to inspire and encourage young women to pursue careers in STEM, which is going nationwide in 2017 with events in Cork City Hall 9 and 10th February and in the RDS Dublin on 13 and 14 February. Photography: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

More than 4,000 transition year students will attend the I WISH events in Cork and Dublin next week. MARTINA O’DONOGHUE talks to one of the founders of the initiative about the impact they are making, the results of a new survey and this year’s theme, ‘Shaping a Better World’

IN JANUARY of last year, The World Economic Forum produced a report entitled ‘The Future of Jobs’, in which predictions were made that advances in technology and automation would ultimately result in a net loss of more than five million jobs in the world’s top economies by 2020.

Put simply, there will be machines to do the job of humans.

It’s not all grim reading though, as these losses should be partially offset by the creation of 2.1 million new jobs, mainly in more specialised areas requiring skills in computers, maths and engineering.

However, there are further implications for females as their low participation in the likely job-growth areas means there could, in the future, be an even larger gender employment and pay gap.

Caroline O’Driscoll, a tax partner with KPMG in Cork, refers to this report while outlining her concerns for young women in the future workforce. She and Gillian Keating, Partner at Ronan Daly Jermyn; and Ruth Buckley, Head of ICT & Business Services at Cork City Council, have already addressed the issue by founding I WISH, a hugely successful partnership initiative encouraging young women to think about the possibility of a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths).

“Part of the reason I got involved in the tech sector was to understand what my clients were talking about, so I joined the board of it@cork to learn more about the companies I was advising. After all, I was the girl who once asked ‘Where is the internet?’,” says Caroline.

She certainly developed a passion for all things tech-related — and was MC at the last Tech Summit in Dublin — but she has noticed a lack of females along the way.

“The moment for me was seeing an issue in the region — and it’s a global thing — there’s a talent shortage. And I was looking around a room, thinking ‘Lads, where are all the women?’ It was a lightbulb moment.”

Caroline, Gillian and Ruth are now bringing the third I WISH conference and exhibition to City Hall on February 9 and 10 (and for the first time to Dublin on February 13 and 14), combining the power of industry, academia and the public sector in order to inspire and encourage Transition-Year girls to choose STEM subjects for the Leaving Cert and beyond.

For the lay person, it is difficult to get one’s head around the ever-changing world of tech, much less predict what the future labour market will look like.

“Children currently in primary school will be working in jobs that don’t exist now,” Caroline explains.

“So I think it’s less about the job but more about the skills that they’ll have; it’s about having a scientific and mathematical literacy that can be applied to different jobs.

“The mantra of I WISH is ‘Choices, Chances, Changes’. I have a daughter who is five and whether she wants to be a nurse, engineer, ballerina or computer programmer, it’s important that she’s not limited by me and not limited by society. Girls should have choices — and then let them make up their own mind.”

“It’s not about fixing girls,” she’s quick to add. “Girls don’t need to be fixed. But they need to be shown a path. Look at the Leaving Cert results — girls largely outperform boys in every single subject but they’re trending more towards teaching, nursing and caring professions.

“From our own survey, 75% said helping other people was important to them when choosing a career but only 16% wanted to do physics, whereas over 80% are doing biology. We need to get across to the girls that physics, chemistry and technology can result in jobs that involve caring for others.”

With that in mind, the theme of I WISH this year is ‘Shaping a Better World’. With the world’s population set to increase by 2.5 billion by 2050, those behind I WISH want girls to ponder how those extra people are going to be fed and housed, with a greater demand for smart homes and increased urbanisation and yet not destroying the environment in the process. The answers to all those questions will come from scientific and computer literate minds. It’ll be an alternative way of caring for people.

I WISH will survey attendees to get an insight into attitudes and behaviours, followed by a survey among teachers after the event to assess its success. In the past this has shown a welcome trend.

“We found 60% of girls changed their subject choices because of I WISH, so it’s having an impact,” said Caroline.

ABOUT I WISH

I WISH is an award-winning initiative in partnership with Cork City Council, Cork Chamber, it@cork, Cork County Council, UCC and CIT.

I WISH’s anchor sponsors are Dell EMC and VM Ware, in association with Science Foundation Ireland. The Entrepreneur Zone is supported by the Local Enterprise Office in Cork, in association with Enterprise Ireland.

The I WISH 2017 speaker line-up includes Brenda Romero, an award-winning game designer; Dr. Nora Khaldi, Nuritas Founder and CSO; Ciara Judge, scientist and entrepreneur; Arlene O’Neill, Assistant Professor in Physics at Trinity College Dublin; David Puttnam, film producer and chairman of Atticus Education; Anne O’Leary, CEO of Vodafone; Dr. Pixie McKenna, doctor and TV Presenter; and Aisling Keegan Vice President and General Manager of Dell EMC Ireland.

This year the conference and exhibition will reach more than 4,000 transition year girls. The events are now fully booked. See www.iwish.ie for more.

 

Members of Ear To Stay mini-company with a prize won at the Enterprise Ireland Trade Fair competition for students. (L-R) Catherine McKenna, Emily Fulton, Brid Daly, Ellena O’Keeffe.

STUDENTS GEAR UP TO PITCH THEIR IDEAS

I WISH has launched a new competition, Build IT by Girls, inviting teams of students to pitch their STEM business ideas to a panel of entrepreneurs at the forthcoming I WISH event in City Hall.

Students have been asked to submit a summary of their idea, along with details of their expected business trajectory. Each team will then have an opportunity to pitch their business idea to entrepreneurs from the world of STEM, in the dedicated I WISH Entrepreneur Zones at the event.

Four girls from Scoil Mhuire, who have formed their own mini-company called Ear To Stay, are among those who have been busy preparing for entry.

The company consists of Marketing Manager Catherine McKenna, from Crosshaven; Managing Director Emily Fulton, from Douglas; Sales and Production Manager Brid Daly, from the outskirts of Ballincollig; and Finance Manager Ellena O’Keeffe, from Fermoy.

Ear To Stay provides silicon hooks for earphones, to prevent them falling out of ears, especially when the wearer is mobile. They noticed this was an issue among their friends and discovered that while there was no such device available here, there was a company in the US selling them to the American market for $10, which the girls felt was too expensive.

“So we found a manufacturer in China and we’re shipping them in,” explains Emily.

“We got 100 pairs to start and we’re already down to the last seven or eight pairs. One pair is €3 or two pairs for €5.”

The girls pooled together to finance their first order and are currently showing profits in the region of €200, but they may need to get investors on board in the future.

They also credit their “brilliant” business teacher, Mr Quinton, for his leadership: “He pushed us to go and take the risk and really guided us,” says Emily.

For the girls, this is not just a school project. “I know, personally, I’m looking at doing business when I leave school. You can become the employer and express your ideas,” says Emily.

“So we want to keep going into the future, keep expanding. We’re looking for a manufacturer who could make them in Ireland and we’d eventually like to sell wholesale.

“What we’re trying to achieve is to sell out past the school and get people aware of our brand. We need to set up a website — we own the domain name — and we’re hoping to use Facebook advertising to advertise the website. With word of mouth, news will spread.”

It won’t be the first time Scoil Mhuire has helped shape the entrepreneurial spirit, with a business idea called P.E.N (Portal for Educational Needs) awarded Cork Student Enterprise of the Year 2016, something which has helped motivate this year’s hopefuls.

“The year ahead of us are still selling their products, so that’s an inspiration to us,” says Emily.

“It shows us that once Transition Year is over you can keep going. If they can do it, we know we can do it too.”

In November, at Blackpool Shopping Centre, the girls presented their business at the Enterprise Ireland Trade Fair competition for schools, winning a trophy for best sales plan. Meanwhile, last month they were among 80 students attending CIT/I WISH Campus Week, an interactive programme allowing students to immerse themselves in STEM via practical interactive workshops, demonstrations and site visits to Midleton Distillery, Páirc Uí Chaoimh and the Maritime College in Ringaskiddy. It was an eye-opener for all of them, as they now vow to keep their options open when choosing their Leaving Cert subjects.

“I’m very into science but there are things that I would have thought, ‘that’s a man’s job’ but it helped me realise girls can do it too,” says Ellena.

Good luck to the girls in the competition — the winning teams will be rewarded with innovative wearable tech devices as well as an opportunity to win an internship with Dell in Cork, or a visit to Google’s European headquarters in Dublin.

Entry forms are available on www.iwish.ie/build-it-by-girls and the closing date for applications is this Friday, February 3.

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