New Zealand is well placed to meet the demands of the brave new world on the other side of the Covid-19 crisis – but two business leaders say young people need to be encouraged to become innovators, with the skills and knowledge required for jobs of the future.
Covid-19 has shown us how vital STEM expertise is (STEM is science, technology, engineering and maths subjects), providing tools to help understand and fight the virus and its devastating impact.
"Coming out of the pandemic and recession, the country will need to rebuild and continuing to accelerate children's education in STEM feels more important than ever as we unite to create a better future," says James Magill, Genesis' Executive General Manager, Retail Markets.
Genesis has been investing in future innovators since 2006, with its School-gen programme inspiring students around the country to learn about STEM in fun and engaging ways. Now, Genesis are teaming up with Mind Lab - who have been working towards similar goals for many years – to continue to inspire Kiwi kids to love and take up STEM subjects and careers.
"If we can engage children in fun challenges, inspire them – remembering the experiences as kids that really flicked a switch – we can get more people learning about STEM and building opportunities for the future."
Frances Valintine, founder of the award-winning education provider Mind Lab, says innovation and adaptability will be increasingly required in a post-Covid world.
"I think all science and technology disciplines will suddenly become very sexy," she says.
Valintine says the more we have confidence in our ability to be creative, the more we set ourselves apart from others: "If you are hiring somebody who can only do what everyone else can do, then they are bringing no additional value. When there's a job crisis looming ahead of us, those young people who are creative will fare better than those who cannot do that," she says.
"Jobs typically evolve over time but when there's massive technological disruption and advancement you see a significant leap ahead. Innovation and invention is what comes out of every crisis," she says.
Valintine was a tech geek growing up and her passion for empowering students and educators to develop applied digital knowledge and capability led her to start Mind Lab in 2013. Since then Mind Lab has introduced a quarter of a million children to hands-on science and technology fun, as well as training and empowering thousands of teachers to be competent educators in STEM subjects.
"Being creative gives us a sense of control because we're not trying to meet the expectations of the answer, or a pre-determined expectation of 'this is what you must do'," she says. "It means we can be multi- and cross-disciplinary, not just 'this sits in a science box, or a maths box'."
Now the new partnership will take STEM learning from classrooms into homes by providing free access to Genesis' School-gen resources and the Mind Lab Kids platform for primary school children. Both are available for teachers to use in classrooms as well as by children and whanau at home.
Mind Lab Kids was developed to provide a safe online platform for children to explore and learn from hundreds of STEM activities, resources and challenges at home. Genesis was looking at broadening its School-gen programme beyond the classroom and the Covid crisis activated the collaboration with Mind Lab Kids.
"Our partnership with Mind Lab Kids aims to provide some relief to families disrupted by Covid-19 by inspiring and educating even more kids with fun challenges to put their energy to good use. It's free for anyone in NZ – they can have access to School-gen and Mind Lab Kids resources and activities," says Magill.
While Valintine is heartened by a recent Tertiary Education Commission report showing a significant lift in the number of people, particularly girls, in STEM careers, a shortage of suitably qualified people has been an ongoing issue.
"The shortage of STEM expertise is a demand equation," says Magill. "The opportunities and trends that have been accelerated with things like machine learning, AI and data science, have taken off. Technological advancement brings new opportunities, so there is a surge in demand."
He says Covid-19 may accelerate some existing trends and provide increasing opportunities for New Zealand to compete on an international stage: "There's a transition already into roles of the future and STEM is critical. This current situation I can only see as accelerating it because it's changing habits.
"We have over 1000 people all working at home - from contact centre advisors to engineers. A couple of months ago, if you had told me we would do that almost overnight, I would have had palpitations. So now we can look at things differently.
"New Zealand is a compassionate and warm country, people are educated, industrious, creative and can make things out of nothing. I think that blend of culture and skillset will be valuable."
Late last year, Mind Lab kids was looking at taking its online Kids platform to the global market. As a first step, they considered translating it and gifting it to Wuhan in China to use during their lockdown, not realising New Zealand was only months away from its own lockdown.
Thanks to Genesis, the platform will be free to Kiwis for the next four months, Mind Lab Kids is due to be launched as a global paying platform at the end of April.
Go to schoolgen.co.nz to find out more.