Inspiring young minds to address the skills gap

Working at Hexagon, you hear about many great applications for our technology. There are the driverless vehicles, laser scanning of Formula 1 cars, aircraft wings and the sci-fi robotic automation to name just a few.

For one little girl in Michigan, USA, it’s being able to scan her toy trucks and seeing a digital version come up on screen in front of her eyes. Alaina Lewis is the 3-year-old daughter of Phillip Lewis, Commercial Business Manager for optical scanners with Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence Division in North America.

Phillip has been working with structured light scanners for years and he’s seen a few interesting applications (ask him about scanning meteorites). When he came home with a Hexagon PrimeScan structured light scanner to prepare for a seminar, Alaina wanted to know what her dad was doing.

PrimeScan Structured Light Scanner

PrimeScan Structured Light Scanner

What’s the best way to demonstrate a structured light scanner to a toddler?

“Bring your toys over and I’ll show you,” said Phillip. And with those words he sparked the imagination of a young mind. Pretty soon they’d scanned most of Alaina’s toys and her personal favourite was the Blippi LLC Recycle Truck. 30 minutes past bedtime, the story might have ended there, but it shouldn’t. It mustn’t.

We’re seeing a skills gap in the technology sector. Great engineers and scientists are retiring, and they’re not being replaced fast enough. Why? There’s no lack of curious minds. The youth of today are just as smart as previous generations but we’re noticing more and more roles left empty. At the same time, there is a gender imbalance with women studying STEM subjects.

 

Sadly that’s nothing new. People have been trying to address the issue for hundreds of years. Sir Thomas Moore, renaissance humanist, speaker of the house of commons and chancellor to Henry VIII, caused outrage when he sent his daughters to school during the 16th century. He ended up with his head on a stick at the gates of London Bridge (for other reasons… it’s complicated).

The gender imbalance is not innate. Of course it isn’t. The story of Alaina goes to highlight that fact, but it is deeply entrenched. Go to the website of any toyshop, search for “toys for boys” and you’ll see a list that looks remarkably like the product applications mentioned at the start of this blog post.

The need for positive action

For the past 15 years the Global Economic Forum has published a paper on this very subject (read the most recent version here), and its tone has become increasingly urgent, partially because of the same skills gap we’re seeing in the tech sector. It makes for depressing reading:

“Gender gaps are more likely in sectors that require disruptive technical skills… in Cloud Computing women make up 14% of the workforce; in Engineering, 20%; and in Data and AI, 32%.”

When we talk about a skills gap in the tech sector, we really ought to be talking about a gender imbalance with the same fervour. The industry needs to take positive action and Hexagon is contributing through the environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals announced last March.

This very topic was recently discussed on the HxGN Radio (Women in Tech: Leading the way with innovation) and the main points of that piece are worth reiterating. Companies need diversity in the workforce. It promotes creativity and better decision making and by fostering a culture of equity, bringing different people together into a cohesive team, you’ll be able to create something incredible.

Ask Phillip Lewis if he hopes his daughter will follow in his footsteps and he says she’ll go further and do more than he has. That’s not just the words of a proud father, that’s a sincere prediction and a hope for us all.

Alaina Lewis in a Hexagon baseball cap

An engineering star of the future

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