Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths; all key areas to the UK economy, and areas of significant opportunities to young people. Despite some rises in the numbers of young people studying these subjects, the demand for STEM skills is rising faster than the supply. There is also still a significant gender imbalance in those studying STEM subjects.
Is it time for radical action?
On 26th September, Nesta and the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills convened an event to explore what directions we could take next to meet the challenges faced in this area. We brought together a wide range of people from those working with primary and secondary schools, linked to further and higher education, and companies and groups representing employers engage with areas needing STEM skills.
We were joined by three speakers who set out the scope of the challenges we face in this area. Chris Lockwood, special advisor to the Prime Minister, spoke of the importance of STEM skills for the UK workforce and the appetite in government to address that challenge, particularly that of the gender imbalance in this field. Hasan Bhakshi, Director of Creative and Digital Economy at Nesta, shared the work his team have been doing on the creative industries, exploring the importance of interdisciplinary skills and creativity for an innovative economy. Ross Broad from the Behavioral Insights Team also took us through work they have been doing on the choices people make to engage with STEM skills, and how we might ‘nudge’ young people to choose to explore such subjects in more depth at key points in their lives.
The groups explored a range of challenges, with themes cutting across all of them being the sometimes poor or unrealistic perceptions of STEM subjects or careers and the issues with a much lower proportion of women than men following these routes.
We split into groups to consider the challenges at different levels, and explore recommendations for action.
Promote positive and realistic attitudes towards STEM subjects throughout the school system
Support CPD for existing teachers
The group felt that too often the shortage of STEM teachers is framed as a need to get more graduates into teaching. There is significant attrition from the teaching profession, and there was a feeling that much could be done to encourage STEM teachers to stay in the profession by valuing and continuing to develop their skills:
Explore avenues for both new graduates and career changers training to teach
Optimise the employability of students
Supporting multiple routes into STEM employment
Extra support and national coordination to allow quality SME engagement with schools
Develop the knowledge and capacity of schools to offer career advice
National campaigns such as a ‘STEM week’
A ‘Teach too’ route to allow industry professionals to train and teach part time
Bringing the influence of recent industry experience to classrooms in a sustained and ongoing way.
Many of the ideas undoubtedly raise significant questions and challenges, as do many early stage ideas to address such long term challenges. However, there are some perspectives here that could result in radical action that just might provide the kind of significant shifts needed to significantly develop the STEM skills situation.
At the very least they provide useful discussion points on how we might want to try to influence policy moving forward.
How would you address the shortage of young people studying STEM subjects and moving into STEM careers? Your comments are very welcome below.