Hutt at Heart
Sithmi Hewage, third from right

Hutt’s Innovative Young Minds Inspiring Future Generations of STEM Professionals

A pioneering programme driven by Hutt City Council and the local Rotary Club is changing the way young women view careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) with more opportunities about to be made available across New Zealand.

Since launching in 2017 eighty young women in their senior secondary school years have taken part in Innovative Young Minds (IYM).

The week-long residential programme allows participants to experience what it is like to work in the diverse industries which comprise STEM. ICT, engineering, manufacturing and research-based companies, Crown Research Institutes, and tertiary education providers open their doors to showcase the work they do and profile the myriad of job opportunities available in these sectors.

And IYM is making a difference. 97% of participants have said they will pursue a career in STEM. This compares to less than a quarter of people studying towards a science degree choosing engineering and just over a third studying ICT according to the Careers NZ website. These study trends are reflected in a workforce that is not performing well in terms of gender diversity. 23% of the tech industry and 7% of all engineering graduates in New Zealand are female. These are also sectors of the New Zealand economy experiencing significant skills shortages.

Hutt City Council’s STEM Sector Development Manager Dr Laura Sessions who leads the IYM programme for the Council says, “Hutt City Council has a strategic focus on increasing the number of high-tech businesses and growing employment opportunities in STEM to power economic growth. Through IYM young women have first-hand experience of the job opportunities in STEM. They can visualise the contribution they could make in their careers particularly in the fields of new technologies, engineering and high-value manufacturing.

“IYM is making a material difference to subject and career choice for young women. We are seeing young women through their ongoing connection with IYM choose to focus their studies in digital technology, science and engineering. This is very encouraging and the reason why we are opening up IYM to secondary schools nationally, focusing particularly on low-decile schools.”

Sue Avison from Hutt City’s Rotary Club says, “Rotary wanted to provide tangible support to young women who would not otherwise have the opportunity or, in some cases the confidence, to approach companies to experience STEM. We are pleased to continue our support for IYM into 2019.”

IYM also includes introducing participants to role models and providing mentoring and ongoing support through ever-expanding alumni.

Sithmi Hewage – 2017 IYM alumna and currently a year 12 student at Hutt Valley High School.

Sithmi Hewage is a 2017 IYM alumna and currently a year 12 student at Hutt Valley High School. She describes IYM as “a huge confidence booster” which really opened up opportunities she didn’t know existed.

“The networking opportunities provided by IYM are incredible. You get the chance to meet like-minded people and stay connected to them. One IYM student went on to intern at Pertronic, a company which designs develops and manufactures advanced automatic fire detection systems. Another interned at the Civil Aviation Authority. These only came about because of IYM,” says Sithmi.

IYM opens for applications for the 2019 on 1 November.  The programme is expanding from 40 places to 80 and being run in two one-week blocks in the July 2019 school holidays. Applications are welcome from Lower Hutt secondary school students and, for the first time, applications are being encouraged from secondary schools across New Zealand.

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