The UK technology sector is growing more than two-and-a-half times faster than the overall economy making it a highly desirable sector to work in, but that doesn’t mean flocks of skilled workers are queuing around the block for jobs. The reality is that by 2020 we will have one million unfilled jobs in the IT sector due to the growing digital skills gap.
A recent LinkedIn report found that four of 2018’s top five emerging jobs were in the developing and machine learning space, requiring technical skills in cryptocurrency, software as a service and artificial intelligence, yet many people don’t possess the digital literacy skills required, making it difficult to fill the roles and to train current employees.
Poor digital literacy can be traced back to a lack of interest in IT and technology among school children. GCSE ICT lessons have widely been described as being no more than a course in Microsoft Office skills and classes were recently phased out of the curriculum in favour of computer science.
Many children however, already have a preconceived idea of the IT and technology industry before they enter high school. Young girls are often already aware that it’s a male dominated subject and schools often fail to show young people the wide variety of career options open to them.
Research has shown that basic stereotypes begin to develop in children aged between 2 to 3 years old. As children grow older, stereotypes about sports, occupations, and adult roles expand, and their gender associations become more sophisticated. Negative stereotypes toward maths, technology and science can develop in children starting in primary school and are considered to contribute to the under-representation of women in many technical STEM fields.
But should our schools really bear the brunt of the blame or should we focus on what we can do as parents to open our children up to a world of technology before those stereotypes have the chance to influence their career choices?
The good thing is, you don’t need to impart these skills yourself, because some toy manufactures are already addressing the issues by teaching children as young as three how to code, build robots, build circuits and interact with sensors.
Take a look at some of our favourite toys currently available to buy.
You’re never too young to learn to how to code and this toy proves it! Code-a-pillar has been designed to help pre-school children to develop their problem solving, sequencing and critical thinking abilities – all of which are vital skills for coders. Code-a-pillar’s segments can be taken apart and rearranged, and each new combination sends the toy in a different direction. Eventually children will learn to programme the toy to go wherever they want and when that becomes too easy, you can create an obstacle course or map for them to follow.
How do you get children to learn computer programming without them spending hours in front of a screen getting square eyes? The answer is Code Master.
Code Master is a board game with a difference. It teaches children the basics of programming without having to switch on a computer. Searching for power crystals in an exotic land, children will need to use computer programming logic to navigate a map. There are different levels to play and in each one specific sequences of actions will lead to success.
Makeblock mBot Smart Robot kit
The Makeblock mBot Smart Robot kit makes it easy to introduce STEM skills to primary school children. The robot kit is comprised of modules that fit together with an enclosed screwdriver. It also has several pre-set modes that allow children to explore essential robot functions such as obstacle avoidance and line following with minimal coding. For more experienced children, the mBot can be controlled via a Scratch-based programming system and has expansion packs that add new functions to the robot. It even is compatible with LEGO, providing endless hours of creativity!
Avengers Hero Inventor Kit
The traditional outfits in the dressing up box just got a whole load more exciting. With the Avengers Hero inventor kit, kids can build their own wearable gauntlet, complete with sensors, sound effects and flashing lights. It’s modular in design and customisable so kids can play around with the various components to see how they work. They can also add superhero powers to their gauntlet via a block-based coding system. A companion app with superhero-themed lessons guides the kids through both the building and coding process. The tutorials start off easy and then gradually increase in difficulty teaching them how to build circuits, interact with sensors and programme lights and sounds.
While all the toys listed above are marketed as being unisex, this toy has been specifically designed to encourage young girls to get into tech.
Forget Barbie, the Smartgurlz world is the place to be. These engaging fashion dolls can be programmed to travel in various directions on a Segway-style Siggy Robot scooter via SugarCoded, an app available on smartphones and tablets. Children can carry out set missions and adventures that build their maths and spatial reasoning skills. The SmartGurlz universe is designed to help young girls see themselves in STEM fields, with each doll’s character enjoying interests such as mechanical engineering and 3D printing.
The toy your child hasn’t built yet
The toys we’ve talked about above can all be purchased in store or online. They’ve been designed and manufactured by toy companies and are currently sat on shelves waiting to be purchased. But what about the toys that haven’t yet been invented?
3D printers are opening up a huge opportunity for children to create and print their own toys. While 3D printers haven’t made their way into most households yet, it’s definitely on the horizon. In just a couple of years, your child and their friends could be designing and printing dollhouse furniture, animal critters, plans and cars right from the family room.
Can toys influence your children’s career choices later in life?
Children learn about the world around them through games and play. During this time, they develop the necessary skills vital for later life. And, since they are influenced by their surroundings, toys impact their growth by engaging their physical and mental resources in a fun and interesting manner. Research has shown that early toy preferences may provide a window into their future job occupations and roles in society, meaning toys may very well help to determine your children’s career paths. What are you waiting for? It might be time to get the purse out.