“It is my ambition that STEM subjects are brought to fore,” says Edwina Dunn, pioneering data scientist and businesswoman. “As an employer, that’s what I value.” And considering her successes, she’s certainly qualified to comment.
After establishing the Tesco Clubcard and leading data into the digital age, Edwina sold her company DunnHumby in 2011. She continues to innovate in the field of data science and in 2015 was appointed trustee of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust—the charity behind UTCs. We caught up with her to find out more.
You’re a firm supporter of the UTC programme. Could you explain why?
“STEM subjects have relevance, importance and meaning in modern life—and crucially in jobs for the future. At the moment, subjects have become so theoretical there’s a danger young people won’t make that connection. The reality of the training at UTCs and the fact that they’re so job-orientated helps students hold on to the fact that this hard work they’re going through has meaning for their future.”
As an employer, what are the biggest problems you face relating to skill and talent in your own business?
“People don’t understand that rigorous subjects like Maths and Physics are fundamental to thousands and thousands of jobs—including my own! But the biggest problem is that people see grades as more important than subjects.
“If you’ve got an A-star in a non-technical subject, and a B in a really heavyweight one, there is a sort of a colour blindness there. As an employer, I would prefer someone who had studied STEM to a high level, even if they didn’t get an A-star or an A. It’s vitally important that students learn to love a subject.”
Do you think employers can do more to address this skills gap, or is it out of their hands?
“I think there is a gradual awakening that employers might actually be part of this problem. There’s a realisation that if people are being recruited purely on grades, those who are doing the technical subjects are sacrificed for those who have done non-technical subjects.”
There’s a nationwide shortage of scientists and engineers, but particularly of women in the field. Why do you think this is?
“At it’s peak, DunnHumby had 2,000 people and 50% of those were female. I’m really proud of that. But as you say, this isn’t the norm. I think it’s partly the language that puts girls off. They’re worried science is ‘geeky’ or ‘dead-end’. But these technically related jobs are creative, they’re rewarding—they aren’t underpaid or dead-end. They’re the jobs of the future.
“The facts are: jobs are there, girls are wanted, girls are skilled and they do very well in these industries—we need to keep fighting.”
What advice could you offer young girls looking to follow in your footsteps?
“Absolutely go for it! I’ve had the most fantastic career. I’ve travelled all over the world, I’ve been rewarded financially, I’ve been rewarded with the most amazing people I work with and I’ve never had a dull moment at work. What more can you ask for out of a career? It’s second to none, actually!”
What tips could you offer a young person considering attending a UTC?
“Go and see one. And talk to people who are enjoying their job subsequent to attending one. What better recommendation?”
Finally, why should people #ThinkUTC?
“#ThinkUTC because the training has been carefully crafted to get a job at the end of it. And isn’t that everybody’s hope and purpose?”
Follow Edwina on Twitter: @edwina_dunn