The vital importance of STEM education to our society

Playing a vital role the world over, science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) employees are everywhere. However, their numbers are dwindling, a catastrophe for the space and satellite sectors, as well as many others. More needs to be done to encourage the young into STEM fields if mankind is to continue down the current path of digitalisation.

Back in 2001, the US National Science Foundation first coined STEM as an acronym. Broken down into its four subject categories, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; and when we stop and consider, STEM is everywhere we look.

Pouring with opportunity and potential, STEM is in no way a restrictive field to be a part of; it is bursting with innovation and creativity, so much so they are its backbone.

Up by 8 percent the previous year and 18 percent the previous decade, UK universities announced that applicants to STEM related undergraduate degrees back in 2014 had increased, reaching a record high amount.

However, the government have suffered huge economic effects of up to £1.5 billion per year due to a major skill shortage in the industry, despite the huge increase of under graduates in 2014. A 2018 report that surveyed 400 HR directors and decision makers across relevant businesses found 90 percent of employers are struggling to recruit staff with the desired skill base.

These aforementioned decision makers are being forced to look further afield and now 48 percent of businesses are talent-scouting abroad since the above stats approximately translate to having 10 unfilled roles per company.

Why is there a shortage? The reality of this matter is that there is no definitive reasoning behind this and unfortunately, no clear solution either. However, analysts have proposed the following reasons are certainly accelerating the problem:

  • Those currently working in STEM roles are choosing to take earlier retirement and those who choose to stay on are failing to achieve their desired salary that matches their experience.

  • At primary and secondary school level, there is not enough emphasis placed on the importance and, similarly, diversity of STEM. A lack of clear, concise advice in terms of career guidance fails to encourage children to adopt such a professional path later in life.

An incomparable number of roles available in relation to student enrolments. Excluding Arts and Entertainment, every other sector was experiencing a major skills shortage —Professional and Scientific Tech the highest, with a 69.49 percent gap.

Since the UK set a target to create 142,000 new jobs by 2023, this at present, will only contribute to the problem that is drastically growing out of control.

What is the solution? What has been described as ‘the perfect storm,’ before being able to detail a plan to combat this, an established channel of communication needs to be dealt with between the different stake holders.

Taking on much of the blame for the STEM skill shortage are schools, as noted above. With this said, they are simply one piece of an overarching problem. If we are going to see any form of U-turn, the government and businesses alike need to start ambitiously devoting their power into developing a strategy for the future of STEM.

Chief Executive of STEM learning, Yvonne Baker, notes: “The shortage is a problem for employers, society and the economy, and in this age of technological advancement the UK has to keep apace. We need to be in a better position to home grow our talent, but it cannot be left to government or schools alone – businesses have a crucial role to play too.”

To help inspire children to begin a career in STEM related topics, Baker calls upon the likes of businesses to help schools and education boards via their investment.

Columbus UK, a leading digital business services provider, suggests that room for improvement goes further than classrooms and the curriculum. Columbus draw upon initiatives such as Code Clubs, which exists of out-of-school sessions for primary school children, in conjunction with well-known British brands.

The idea is to get rid of the typical stereotypes or labels that STEM is associated with, explaining that it is more than just laboratory work and is instead active functions within our everyday lives. Weetabix is a case study regularly used by Code Clubs. The popular breakfast brand is used to demonstrate the journey ‘from field to fork,’ detailing the continued role that STEM plays in this process.

The overall goal is to help children understand the potential that exists within STEM and not only what the industry can offer them, but what they can offer the industry. Dispelling the myth that the only way into the industry is through a university degree, post-secondary education such as apprenticeships are other ways to access the industry. The likes of Lookers, who retail new Ford transit vehicles, is one example of a UK business who actively recruits apprentices in all areas of their work, focusing on creation, innovation, and learning.

The reality and significance of ‘now’ STEM has propelled itself into the limelight, as the importance of it is highlighted even more so now than ever before, hugely accelerated by the issue of Covid-19 and the recent national lockdown.

As healthcare professionals, scientists, and manufacturers work relentlessly to find a vaccine for the virus and meet the demand for PPE and additional medical equipment, the importance of these industries cannot be stressed enough.

The economic situation of the UK and what it will look like post-lockdown is something we are currently unaware of, with few able to predict the lasting damages. However, one thing is for sure — when this is all over, our need for these vital workers in our population will be recognised even more prominently.

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