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Thursday, 17 January, 2002, 12:06 GMT
1m fund to attract women to tech
Girls working on computer, BBC
Delegates looked at ways of enticing girls into tech
By BBC News Online's Jane Wakefield

A 1 million fund for the UK technology and telecoms industry to tempt women into tech jobs has been announced by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Patricia Hewitt.

Speaking at the Women in IT conference in London, Ms Hewitt outlined the government's commitment to increase the number of women in technology jobs.

When IT firms are forced to recruit from half the talent pool it is not surprising that there are skills shortages

Secretary of State Patricia Hewitt
The fund will be available to any technology or telecoms company to help make working hours more flexible for women returning to work after having a family.

Fewer than a quarter of computing graduates are women, and only one in five technology jobs is filled by a female. Ms Hewitt says the disparity is incredibly frustrating for government.

"It is a high priority to get more women to take up IT careers. It is an issue for the wider economy. When [tech] firms are forced to recruit from half the talent pool it is not surprising that there are skills shortages," she said.

According to research firm IDC, the skills shortage in the tech industry is reaching crisis point with 1.5 million unfilled vacancies across Europe.

Nerdy image

As well as looking at why women returning to work are not choosing tech careers, the conference on Wednesday also looked at why younger girls avoid the subject in the first place.

Trade and Industry secretary Patricia Hewitt, BBC
Hewitt:Tech industry needs women
Delegates pointed to the geeky image of computing, and claimed it was essential to get girls interested in technology at an early age.

To this end, a scheme to run computer clubs for girls has been set up by the e-skills NTO (National Training Organisation) - a not-for-profit firm that works with business, government and educators to ensure the UK stays competitive.

The club-in-a-box - which has been designed with the help of teenage girls - will be distributed to schools across the UK and has been devised to be girl-friendly by delivering key computer skills in a way teenage girls can relate to.

Computing vs clubbing

So, for example, Photoshop skills are taught with visual and audio aids from a virtual personal assistant. The end product is the girl's own face on the front of a teen-style magazine.

The idea created a stir at the conference. Pat Brogen, vice president of education at Macromedia, said it would be donating its Macromedia Flash software free to schools joining the project.

It should please teachers as well. Club organisers will only need the most basic of skills to use the software.

Inez Ware, advanced skills teacher at King Edmund School, believes the idea will be a hit.

"An awful lot of girls don't like computing, but an awful lot of girls do like clubbing," she says.

The first pilots of the club will be launched in schools across southeast England soon.

See also:

16 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Tempting women into tech jobs
11 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Gadget makers target women
18 Dec 01 | UK
Women catch up on net use
11 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
Women lead UK online growth
15 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Appeal for more 'IT' girls
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