Westpac, Deloitte-backed Day of STEM launches in Australia

Australian tech leaders have launched LifeJourney's Day of STEM program, using the power of the industry to get the word out to inspire kids to take up a career in the tech industry.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

LifeJourney International has launched its Day of STEM initiative, aiming to show students what it actually means to have a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), with the backing of some of the country's tech heavyweights.

The program, Australia 2020, aims to push students towards a STEM-based career, but operates under the assumption that telling students to study STEM is not enough to incite interest.

The online platform allows kids to explore what it is like to have a career in fields such as wireless technology, cybersecurity, drone delivery, financial services, and autonomous vehicles, with students mentored by Ian Hill, chief innovation officer at Westpac; Simone Bachmann, digital trust specialist, responsible for cyber innovation and culture at Australia Post; Gerard Tracey, wireless telecommunications expert at Telstra; Anastasia Cammaroto, CIO at BT Financial Group; Celeste Lowe, cyber risk director at Deloitte; Ita Farhat, chief of staff at AMP; Cara Walsh, digital experience expert from Queensland's RACQ; Martin Levins, consultant at Australian Council for Computers in Education; and others.

The program is also backed by the likes of Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers, and the Australian Computer Society, as well as an education advisory board to ensure the content stays relevant to the Australian market.

A Day in STEM is pushed out to teachers and run in the classroom, with 95,000 students already signed up to the program ahead of its September 5 launch.

Moving though the platform, students are introduced to their mentors and are then shown what their usual work day consists of. It then continues to ask questions of the students about the future they see themselves having by allowing them to shortlist their future resume, then being shown the skills they will need to get there.

According to Phil Scanlan, chairman LifeJourney International, the purpose of the program is to get the message out to the wider community that STEM will drive the future of Australia's economy, getting students as young as 12 making decisions which will affect their future.

Scanlan believes high performing communities depend on smart, well educated citizens, but noted having a formal qualification is no longer enough -- rather it is a person's skill-set that counts.

"Australia's destiny is to add value to the rest of the planet and if we don't, the rest of the planet will take care of our continent for us," he said.

"While we currently rank within the top 20 economies, it's inevitable that Australia's GDP will be overtaken in absolute terms by more populous, emerging economies."

Australia 2020 is the second program run by LifeJourney, with the first -- The STEM Cup -- kicking off on July 18 this year.

In partnership with Collingwood Football Club and La Trobe University, the STEM Cup saw students explore mathematics in sport, via the Internet of Things with Cisco, big data analytics with SAS, and Collingwood's "Capologist" -- the fictitious name of the individual in charge of recruiting players and keeping under the AU$2 million salary cap.

"Sports is a great lure," Tom Reich, executive director at LifeJourney International, said. "It was cool and it was challenging."

Reich said the idea behind both programs is about showing kids how what they are being taught in the classroom relates to the real world.

"Kids need pathways, kids need inspiration, they need to understand why they're being taught what they are in the classroom and what potential careers that leads to -- rather than just STEM for STEM sake," he said.

"Make them aware of what the jobs are, but we also have to do it in an inspiring way -- you have to jazz it up.

"We make them aware, we get them inspired, and then we show them the journey. We're effectively reverse engineering the mentors, their skills, the journey they took, and we put them on the platform."

BT Financial's Anastasia Cammaroto told ZDNet it is important for tech leaders to be involved in initiatives like Day of STEM to "pay it forward" to the next generation.

"If you've been privileged enough to have had a fascinating career in this field then you've absolutely got the responsibility to be able to share what that looks like," she said.

"I do think we need to debunk a lot of the myths that surround the technology industry, that surround science and maths particularly for girls and I am particularly passionate about that. There are so many elements where we can definitely pull together to influence young people around this space."

Similarly, Telstra's Gerard Tracey said it is a privilege rather than a responsibility to influence what he believes the country needs to stay relevant in the digital age.

LifeJourney will run a Rugby League STEM Cup, a cybersecurity program, and part two of Australia 2020 before the year is out.

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