Why Investment in STEM Education is Critical

STEM Education
September 15, 2015

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. These core subjects underpin many industry sectors like manufacturing and oil and gas, and STEM education even impacts global economic growth.

Employers are struggling to recruit workers with STEM skills. With the Royal Academy of Engineering forecasting that an additional 50,000 STEM technicians and 90,000 STEM professionals are required each year simply to meet existing staff turnover, you can see why politicians and industry professionals are worried about STEM education.

The STEM education problem is not a new one

The (UK) “Government has long identified STEM education as a major priority at both school and higher education level”, enthusing students with a desire to continue studying STEM subjects at University. However, it is “…critical that all young people, regardless of their future career pathway, have the STEM knowledge and skills needed to be informed citizens in an increasingly scientific and technological society”[1]. As a result, there are a number of UK initiatives seeking to promote STEM education, some of which can be viewed here.

However, addressing the number of STEM graduates is only part of the problem. Whilst qualified, many STEM graduates lack the skills needed to succeed in the workplace. And whilst technological understanding is a must, a broad skill base, including problem solving and the ability to see industry in its wider context, is desirable. In this respect, industry has as great a role to play in education. From an individual’s perspective, only mentors already in industry truly understand what skills are required to meet the shortfall. From a corporate perspective, an investment of time, energy and capital will be needed to help address the shortage.

There are signs progress is being made. Higher Apprenticeships continue to rise, with the government announcing it recently met its target for supporting 20,000 higher apprenticeships, and several Universities announcing advanced vocational degrees. Likewise, industry initiatives and competitions are proving popular, with high profile examples including Formula Student and Telegraph STEM Awards. Companies are getting involved with schools by offering students the chance to get ‘hands on’ with STEM related ‘work experience’.

But is there really a shortage?

Some would argue not. The number of students studying a STEM related qualification at University outweighs the number of graduate roles available in STEM related industries. Other industries that value numeracy and management skills often offer more lucrative salaries – an attractive proposition for graduates who carry the weight of student debts. Perhaps industry has more to do than offering educational initiatives?

The demand for workers educated with STEM skills is only going to increase. For industry, getting involved is a no brainer. Not only will they be shaping the education of future generations by helping them learn the skills needed to succeed in the workplace, but industry initiatives allow companies unprecedented access to a pool of talented prospective employees. Finally, such initiatives provide an opportunity to showcase technological innovations, raise a company’s profile, and inspire students to continue studying STEM disciplines.

[1] http://www.nationalstemcentre.org.uk/stem-in-context/what-is-stem

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