OMG Tech!, a new initiative to amp up the interest of kiwi kids in technology, was officially launched at a function at Spark HQ in central Auckland last night. The fundraising event was attended by a host of business, political and tech industry leaders.
OMG Tech! is a not-for-profit education initiative founded by Vaughan Rowsell (CEO of Vend) and Michelle Dickinson (aka Nanogirl). Its stated mission is to open up the world of future tech to every Kiwi kid.
Over the next three years OMG Tech! will run a nationwide event series targeting primary and intermediate schools across New Zealand. The goal is to reach 16 regions, 30 events, 2000 schools and 200,000 kids.
The events offer a hands-on approach to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills development that complements other initiatives and works with kids, teachers and communities to inspire a new generation of tech wizards and entrepreneurs.
As Michelle Dickinson says, "Kids love to explore and play and invent and innovate. It is just part of being a kid, being curious and not knowing any boundaries to imagination. However, the really big ideas that will shape our future are in the heads of our kids and the technology that will enable them to make these dreams reality is still inaccessible to many. OMG Tech! aims to bridge the digital divide and enable all kids to get access to the wonders of technology, in turn helping develop New Zealand's future digital workforce and creators.”
Vaughan Rowsell said, “As a young New Zealander I was incredibly fortunate my mother fostered and supported my interest in technology. Not everyone has that chance because while curiosity is innate, opportunity is not. Our hope is that OMG Tech! can create a sense of excitement about what is possible, build a sustainable support network and act as a catalyst for long-term change.”
OMG Tech! is targeting a significant issue. There are simply not enough young New Zealanders getting into STEM-based education. In particular, there is an acute shortage in terms of female, Maori and Pacifica participation. This is leading to significant skills shortages in the workforce at a time when technology skills will increasingly be needed to help resolve some of New Zealand's biggest challenges.
Estimates are that 80% of jobs in the next decade will require some STEM skills. The need to get kids interested early is evident from the fact that 3 in 5 university students made their decision to study STEM in Intermediate or even earlier.
The initiative has attracted support from a growing coalition of organisations who see this as an important investment in New Zealand’s digital future. These include Spark, Huawei, Accenture, Fuji Xerox, Network for Learning (N4L), Vend, Touchcast, Baldwins, Clemenger Group, IAG, Microsoft, Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Shine, Red Hat, Aurecon, Ericsson, Infosys, Halo Consulting and Office Max, with many more companies pledging their support by the day.
Spark Chief Operating Officer David Havercroft said supporting OMG Tech! was an easy decision. "OMG Tech! aligns with our ambition to unleash the potential in all New Zealanders. Technology can and should be a powerful democratising force for all, and our future as a nation depends on how well we make the most of the digital revolution. New Zealand needs a strong and prosperous tech industry, and businesses need more digitally talented New Zealand kids - so inspiring more kids to get into tech is critical for all of us."
At the launch last night, the total amount of pledges from industry partners and the business community topped $600,000, with more pledges to come, ensuring that OMG Tech! is nationally viable and can get cracking on its mission.