Oh no, another STEM blog, I hear you say. This acronym “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) is an increasingly used term in the education world. However, STEM isn’t just a ‘thing’ for the school classroom or an after school club, it has become increasingly important to everyone, including community groups, youth groups and also more fundamentally to employers, as we evolve into a more creative, digital world; a technology and innovation dependent world and a drive to support future growth of the economy.
STEM is important because our world relies on it. No one ever says, that other subjects do not have importance, in the lives of young people (ie well balanced curriculum) and adults, but the economy, our general well-being, is all entwined by Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths.
STEM subjects are seen as critically important to the UK’s future economic success. Engineering alone accounts for 25% of gross value added for the UK economy and manufactured goods account for 50% of UK exports. Science, engineering and technology underpin the whole economy, including power generation and electricity distribution, utilities, the food chain, healthcare, our physical, transportation and information and crucially our communications and data infrastructure. A career in STEM is vast, varied and exciting. It is certainly not about laboratory coats, Bunsen burners and excel spreadsheets!!!
You might be wondering then, if STEM is so important and necessary, why do we have to keep talking about it? STEM Learning’s STEM Skills Indicator research shows that 73% of businesses have found it more difficult to hire staff in the last 12 months. Our new STEM Skills Indicator tells a story about UK business that we need to act upon. We spoke to business leaders in companies at the cutting edge of the industrial economy, from healthcare to AI and robotics. Most of them told us that they are struggling to recruit staff with the STEM skills they need. If we did not keep up momentum in STEM conversations, there wouldn’t be a severe underrepresentation of women in STEM fields. There wouldn’t be just as much of an underrepresentation of minority groups. STEM jobs are also very diverse and growing. The thing about STEM is that it never sleeps. It won’t reach a point and just stop being important. It is an evolving world, through innovation and global need.
With more than 173,000 vacancies that require training in STEM, it is essential that schools, colleges and employers work together to inspire young people and build the pipeline of talent in their local area. The Industrial Strategy driven by government rightly sees promoting STEM as a central part and a major priority; businesses also need to step up to meet the challenge, which they themselves tell us is so urgent. If we did not keep talking about it, there wouldn’t be a severe underrepresentation of women in STEM fields. There is certainly a gender gap that needs filling. There wouldn’t be just as much of an underrepresentation of minority groups. Women comprise a smaller proportion of the workforce in the largest tech companies, like Google and Microsoft and the gap only widens as you move up the ladder toward leadership roles. The creative and digital sector and the growing gaming industries still have a higher proportion of men than women entering such roles.
If we were addressing the annual shortfall of STEM skilled young people entering the jobs ‘arena’ we wouldn’t need to constantly put STEM in the spotlight or in neon lights. According to the Engineering UK, state of Engineering report, the annual shortage of engineering graduates and technicians to fill core engineering roles, alone, is over 59,000, particularly acute when we measure women coming into the profession.
We need to first educate in order to eradicate this growing skills shortage, but schools and colleges, youth groups and community groups, cannot do this alone. Is Business the problem or the solution? Well I certainly feel that employers can do more and there is no doubt they also hold a significant part of the solution, alongside educational and careers support to teachers and parents. Businesses can be the magnet that can draw, interest from young people. I’m not trying to be cute or controversial about this. STEM education support to pupils in school; the improvements to teaching of STEM in the classroom, through professionally recognised CPD and increased STEM education to parents, on the importance of STEM, all have a part to play. The point, however obvious, is that if we aren’t educated on the importance of STEM, we won’t be able to guide pupils to become educated in STEM.
At STEM Learning, we work with businesses and schools to solve this problem. We use business’ funds and know-how and that of government to create programmes that have impacted 20,000 schools and more than 2 million students this year alone, training teachers and educators as well as getting experts, into schools to share their knowledge and expertise.
We manage the STEM Ambassador programme, volunteers from a wide range of jobs and backgrounds who are passionate about inspiring young people to pursue STEM careers. With a growing community of over 33,000 volunteers, they are an important and exciting, free of charge resource for teachers and others working with young people across the UK. STEM Ambassadors help bring a new and inspiring perspective to STEM lessons and career opportunities, able to genuinely change young peoples’ minds about misconceptions they have about industry, science, engineering and technology. From mentoring, to judging a school STEM competition or helping at a careers’ fair, volunteers can get involved in a range of activities to demonstrate the possibilities and breadth of STEM pathways and careers.
It is clear though the STEM skills shortage is not going away. “That is why we are calling on more businesses to come forward and work with us to address this most pressing issue.”, trumpeted by Yvonne Baker, Chief Executive, STEM Learning
So, it’s up to us to keep educating ourselves so that we can educate others. It’s only with such knowledge that we can then tap into our children’s’ interests and successfully introduce STEM in ways that are more meaningful, memorable, and impactful.
Regardless of the situation in the classroom, nothing should be learned in a vacuum. In sport, you play for your school team, but you might also play for a club side; you might still go to summer camps, attend specialized clubs, and even have a personal coach who you work with for a period of time. STEM shouldn’t really be any different. Most community and youth groups are now fortunate to have local programs at nearby libraries, scout/guide groups or museums that feature STEM activities, and there are regional and national STEM competitions in which most can take part.
STEM Ambassadors from employers hold a key to unlock the potential of young people, by illuminating pathways and opportunities to new and exciting areas that STEM can offer.
Recruitment of new STEM Ambassadors, supporting schools, teachers, non-school groups and young learners is certainly not reducing, in most cases without pro-active recruitment. Employers can easily see the invaluable contribution employees can make to young people, teachers and parents (in some cases) and can share in their success. The programme encourages volunteers from across ages, gender and BAME backgrounds.
Barack Obama once said “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”
Businesses and local employers, can make a difference and it is they themselves, the journey they have been on and stories they encounter, that light the spark of a young person in considering the wonderful world that a career in STEM industries can offer. So, certainly don’t believe that we overplay the importance of STEM!