United Technologies (UTC) is looking to meet increasing demand for tech roles within aviation while generating youth excitement about industry careers through its new partnership with nonprofit Girls Who Code. UTC is about to finish hosting its seven-week Summer Immersion Program with the nonprofit, which has shown 19 high school students in Brooklyn, New York how computer science is being used within aerospace technologies today.
According to Lori Strom, director of the Digital University at UTC, the program is beneficial to both the girls in the program and to the company, since it provides an opportunity to develop technical talent and increase employee engagement.
“Part of our goal is, of course, we want them to see UTC as a potential employer in the future and more broadly develop that talent pipeline for us since there are so many opportunities for more diverse talent in STEM fields,” she says. “Ultimately, what we want to see is a diverse talent at UTC. Those different background perspectives help us deliver better solutions for our customers.”
To help the girls better understand how the company’s digital solutions work, UTC first brought them to its Accelerator in Brooklyn, where they were shown what type of data gets pulled from sensors on aircraft for airline customers to better understand things like engine health. “The girls got to see the technical side—so these teams that have been really taking the data and developing solutions for our customers,” says Strom.
The experience at UTC’s Accelerator was followed by a field trip to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, where the girls got a firsthand look at an aircraft to see all of the areas where data is collected.
“We were able to see all the engines and all the different controls in the cockpit, and it was just really cool to see how programming factors into something that a lot of people use,” says Maeve Foley, one of the participants in the Summer Immersion Program. “I think the coolest things were probably all the different sensors that I would never really think would even be incorporated in an airplane. There were just so many things that the engineers took into account that seem so abstract to me,” she adds, such as bird strike tests.
Fellow program participant Berenika Belenkiy adds that the program has opened her eyes to the possibility of tech careers within aviation that she had not previously considered. “Going on all these field trips and seeing all the different real life aspects of it, it shows that there are so many routes to take—it’s not just the stereotypical programming where you’re sitting behind a computer all day,” she says.
According to Vince Campisi, UTC’s chief digital officer, there are plenty of tech roles at the company that girls in the program could eventually aspire to aside from classic engineering fields, such as jobs within data science and analytics, user experience design and software product management. Campisi says UTC’s digital strategy has always been a “people first” one focused on getting workforce excited about possibilities within technology while translating that into creating new experiences for customers to transform how they operate.
“In order to achieve those two things, it’s really about, ‘How do you catalyze the next generation of talent to get excited about the STEM field?’ That’s really how the Girls Who Code strategy fits into supporting our broader strategy around building a diverse and inclusive workforce, because we see it as a competitive advantage,” says Campisi.
Historically, UTC’s workforce recruitment efforts were more focused on the college level, but Strom says the company found data indicating that efforts needed to go further back into the pipeline to be truly effective. The company’s workforce diversity initiatives are now three-fold. Its broad focus is a program called Paradigm for Parity, which seeks to achieve gender parity in the company’s senior ranks by 2030. UTC’s Re-Empower Program focuses on reenlisting people who have taken leave from the workforce and are having difficulties rejoining it—which has now been extended to veterans coming off active duty. Now, the Girls Who Code partnership is reaching further back into the pipeline to reach young talent in an underserved population.
Later this year, Campisi says UTC will be looking to partner with Girls Who Code to globalize the program and bring it to parts of the world where the nonprofit does not yet operate. He says UTC will be an exclusive partner in the Asia region, although specific details are not being released yet. UTC is also partnering with Girls Who Code on its College Loops program, which focuses on continued relationships with girls through their college careers. Campisi says UTC hopes to help Girls Who Code dramatically expand that program.
“These girls are all bright minds with a high energy and I think everyone gains from having the opportunity to see the world through their eyes and teach them things that we sometimes take for granted,” he says. “Our team has been gaining just as much from this experience as the girls are because of the excitement it brings and the importance of what it really means at the end of the day.”