The STEM skills funding gap: Should corporations pick up the pieces?

With computing included in school curriculum for over a month now, the UK has cracked the policy issues to boost the next generation's skill set. But a lack of public funding to cover teacher training as well as IT resources in schools in hampering progress. ComputerworldUK asks Salesforce, a company that makes its philanthropic work well known, should corporations bear responsibility for its employees-to-be?

Suzanne DiBianca has two children in public San Francisco schools. As the president of Salesforce foundation, which which provides discount software for not-for-profit companies as well as direct fundraising, she was was a leading force behind investing millions in STEM skills for school children in her district.

But does she believe businesses should be footing the bill where there are funding gaps?

DiBianca says: “I think corporations have to play the role to push power and they need to show up in the classrooms as mentors. They need to bring kids out of the schools and into their offices. We [Salesforce] do homework clubs every Tuesday. These kids don’t know people who work in technology firms - it’s a totally different realm. They may be doing maths homework with the finance team but what they are seeing, as part of that, is ‘I could work for a technology company’.

“The tricky thing is with corporations, if you look at charitable giving stats globally, corporations form six percent of charitable giving. And it stayed flat in a good economy last year - which really makes me mad."

'You don’t use corporations for money, but you can use them for products, their people and their ability to inspire’

While the UK is privileged to have full backing from the government, half of UK pupils still have poor access to ICT and computers, a report by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) found earlier this month.

Internet connectivity was the main barrier for schools, with 65 percent of primary schools and 54 percent of secondary schools stating they were under-resourced in wifi connectivity.

Retail giant Ocado developed coding primary school teacher training for those who will be delivering the new curriculum, while Capita‘s virtual Computer Programming Environment software and BT-sponsored coding software is available to help young people learn programming. But DiBianca says that a business’ presence in the classroom is key to project role models.

“You don’t use corporations for its money because it doesn’t have it in the same way as an individual person; but you can use them for their products, for their people and for their ability to inspire.”

STEM in the US

DiBianca also believes that although there is money and policy backing school initiatives, the pace of government can hold back development. The US is facing a different problem to the UK, where getting schools on board is the problem, rather than the outsider investment. But Salesforce's example is one that proves businesses can make meaningful improvements in society.

She adds: “I think the onus is on the school district. The difficulty is that they have a lot of pressure and they don’t necessarily feel totally prepared.

DiBianca says that after giving the San Francisco school district 8 million dollars (around £5 million) worth of investment, strategic plans that were written up were not not fast-moving enough.

“I’m sitting there saying ‘what if we teach computer science as part of the common core next year?’ But they said no, we cannot do that...The role of corporations is to push these systems.”

Salesforce won a victory leading to every eighth grade student graduated from San Francisco taking 100 hours of computer science and coding under their belt, something DiBianca describes as the foundation’s “middle ground.”

But she admits, “we couldn’t get it into the curriculum, that’s where the government needs to step in.”

The foundation president says the skills gap will only last ten years, or, "maybe five, Pretty soon the people teching are going to be the ones who grew up in the technology revolution anyway." But the key is giving all children across the UK an opportunity to develop those skills - and that's why businesses need to start proving why technology and IT is a great place to work - for men and women alike.

Read Dreamforce: The highlights for the low-down on one of the software world's largest conferences

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

8 highly useful Slack bots for teams
Shop Tech Products at Amazon