She says the Vodafone graduate programme "slowed down" for a while for financial reasons. "We reinvigorated it two years ago because we decided diversity around age [is an issue]. The biggest users of technology are young people and they bring such a different viewpoint into our business. We decided to up the rate of young people that were entering our business."
But she says they went further to recruit from traditionally underrepresented sectors in the industry through the apprentice scheme.
She says CEO Russell Stanners supported the programme and this year, the company has taken 10 young people on as apprentices who will be hired as permanent staff. "We have taken a punt and decided we are going to offer them full-time roles but basically mentor them for the first two years. They will get to experience all different parts of our business," says Pickering. "A lot of the schemes that are going at the moment are for six months or nine months, but there is no job at the end of it which for young people is really de-motivating."
She says participants will be required to undergo further education, either an NCEA level two or three or complete a certification in telecommunications in the first two years. After this period, they will decide which part of the business they will be working for permanently and they will continue to get mentoring.
Pickering has been visiting high schools, talking to students aged 14 or 15 about considering a technology career. "The key to getting young people excited about the technology is giving them a lot of knowledge early enough when they are deciding what they want to do, before they make decisions if they are going to further education. What subjects do they want to think about in high school to set themselves up into technology careers?"
She says this is the reason why for the apprenticeship, Vodafone linked up with two iwi groups and Bright Sparks, which has programmes to get more young people to work into hi-tech industries. They also spoke to some government agencies for the programme which attracted over 250 applications for the 10 positions.
So what does she tell students who are preparing for a career in IT?
"Considering the rate and pace in which technology is evolving, the best thing you can do is have the basics -- English, maths, sciences. The fundamentals have not changed since I was at school. It is not going to change in 10 years time."
As to how she manages a busy schedule with the demands of a family, she says, "I ruthlessly prioritise.
"If I have got personal things on, I book it in my diary so I can do it whether that is going to a school meeting or watching my son play sport. The rest of it is pure prioritisation, you can't do everything."
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