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Jennifer Flanagan, Actua

Jennifer Flanagan

President & CEO, Actua

With Actua’s for-youth-by-youth model, undergrads gain employability skills and extra income by delivering STEM programs. Mediaplanet spoke to Jennifer Flanagan, President and CEO of Actua, about why STEM education is more important than ever.

How have careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) evolved in this changing world and how can students adapt?

Technology is underpinning every single field from business to health care to education and even agriculture. Digital skills and literacy are no longer a nice-to-have skill, they’re basic literacy. The rapidly-changing nature of work is increasing not only the demand for technical skills but for human skills such as communication, adaptability, empathy, leadership, collaboration, problem-solving, cultural competence, and resiliency. STEM exposure and experience continues to be one of the best and most effective ways to develop these sought-after skills and is an excellent foundational study to prepare students for any future career path.

How is Actua working to make the STEM industry more inclusive and equitable?

Making STEM more inclusive and equitable is both an economic and a social imperative. If diverse voices aren’t represented in STEM, the end products created aren’t going to reach their full impact or serve the audiences they’re intended for. For over two decades, Actua has been breaking down barriers to access to STEM programs and careers for those who are underrepresented and underserved. These include girls and young women, Indigenous youth, youth living in Northern and remote communities, and those facing socio-economic challenges. We focus on engaging the hardest-to-reach youth in Canada ensuring that all young Canadians have the opportunity to develop essential STEM skills.

What opportunities are available for Actua youth?

Through a national network of university- and college-based members and an outreach team, Actua engages Canadian youth ages 6 to 26 in exciting, accessible STEM experiences that build critical employability skills and confidence. With our for-youth-by-youth model, we employ 1,000 undergraduate students to deliver programs that not only provide STEM skills but also employability skills — making sure they have what’s needed as they move into the workforce.

How has COVID-19 impacted the future of work and the skills need?

The COVID-19 pandemic has really raised awareness of how critical science is in our everyday lives and accelerated the speed of the transformation to a digital economy. However, what this has uncovered is that there are youth who are really vulnerable to being left behind. Whether they don’t have access to broadband internet or the technology to participate, we need to work to fill those gaps to make sure that we’re catching our youth up to the rapid development of the digital economy, and that they have the tools and skills to participate.

Why is STEM education more important than ever in today’s world?

We’re living in a world in which STEM is shaping everything from how we work to how we live and interact. A good thing that’s come out of the pandemic is the incredible display of innovation from Canadian companies who have pivoted with scientists and engineers to move away from normal processes to work on products essential to fight COVID-19 and connect in different ways for work and school. STEM skills are critically important for whatever job youth choose to pursue — digital skills and science knowledge are necessary to make informed decisions, take advantage of job opportunities, and fulfill a lot of workforce gaps that we’re looking at as a country.

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