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The code to the new economy

20 Feb 2017

Vincent Guffens’ interest in addressing gender inequality and improving employment opportunities for young people has made him a driving force in setting up code clubs for students in Macquarie’s London office, in partnership with local youth mentoring charity ReachOut.

Guffens, who works in Macquarie’s quantitative team for the Commodities and Financial Markets Group, believes economic and structural shifts away from mining and manufacturing jobs require greater investment in computer science to increase young people’s employability.

“If we get the transition to new technology right, with more education for those people who are more at risk of losing their jobs in future, then we have a much better chance of improving productivity,” Guffens says.

Guffens worked with the Macquarie Group Foundation two years ago to introduce code clubs in the London office and he is particularly keen to expose girls to computer science to mitigate assumptions it’s a more male-oriented career.

He points to statistics that show women (in the US) make up 26 percent of the software engineering workforce, and only 18 percent of college students graduating with computer science degrees are women. “We have to address diversity in the tech workforce through education and teaching,” he says.

There have been half a dozen code clubs held at Macquarie so far, largely based on the free visual programming language Scratch. The one-and-a-half hour meetings involve writing code to build simple games, which the student group can then share with each other. The programming also complements what the students are learning at school.

Macquarie volunteers have extended from Guffens initially to his quant colleagues and then beyond his team to IT staff - “so there is a lot of interest in getting involved in this”, he says.

“It would not be possible to organise the clubs without the support of IT, which is providing the laptops and setting them up. We now have team of regular volunteers, mostly from IT, and that’s very helpful too.

“I get the satisfaction of doing what we can to improve inequality in society and I’ve also been meeting people within Macquarie - it’s been a great interaction and there are lots of benefits for everyone.”

ReachOut is a long-term community partner of the Macquarie Group Foundation, and the code clubs are but one way Macquarie staff have supported the non-profit over the years.

Chloe Holness, ReachOut’s London manager, says the diversity of Macquarie’s contribution - including through fundraising (such as the firm’s Graduate Volunteering Network organising a dodgeball tournament), weekly mentoring by 16 staff at a Hackney school and visits to Macquarie’s London office – underscores the value of the partnership.

“The opportunities are endless in how we see the relationship,” she says. “Just being in that corporate environment [at Macquarie] also helps raise aspirations for the kids.

“With the code clubs, it has to be fun but also educational. The idea that you can have a job playing games is quite mind blowing to the kids and that’s the motivation for them to think about how they could have a successful career.”

“And the kids love the code program – they’ve asked us when they can go back and do it again which is brilliant! It’s really Vincent’s passion – he initiated it and it’s unique amongst our corporate partners.”

The code clubs also reflect a broader initiative within Macquarie to support female staff in technology-related jobs at the firm, such as an employee network group set up in 2016 which aims to attract and develop women in tech roles through the sharing of information, advice and inspiration.

Image caption: Code clubs hosted by Macquarie have been embraced by the young people ReachOut UK works with.