Manchester keeps ahead of the STEM skills gameMarch 29, 2019
In the uncertainty of how Brexit will play out, addressing the STEM skills gap and ensuring that UK technology businesses have a pool of skilled talent to take British industry into the future, is fast becoming one of the most pressing educational issues of our time.
Innovation in UK industry depends upon one key ingredient: skilled, inspired and pioneering young talent driving our digital businesses and new technology industries forward. Which is exactly why it is vital that we are all doing everything possible to give our young people the skills and knowledge they need for the future.
But how to close the STEM skills gap? That’s the question on everybody’s lips, especially after a new survey suggested there is a shortage of 173,400 STEM workers across the UK, costing the economy £1.5bn each year.
Can the government do more on STEM?
Addressing the STEM gap is an immense challenge for Britain’s digital industries, schools and universities.
As ever, Manchester and the North-West is already ahead of the game, with a number of local organisations and initiatives already under way to address the STEM skills shortage.
Check out, for example The University of Manchester’s forward-thinking program on STEM activities. The university runs a range of STEM events and activities for secondary school teachers, advisers and pupils, as well as STEM activities and events designed specifically for schools and colleges take place within the university’s academic Faculties and Schools.
This type of initiatives – one of many across Manchester and the North-West – are sure-footed, confident steps in the right direction. But is the government really doing enough to make sure we have the talent we need for our industry to thrive in the Internet of Things era?
Apprenticeships are a great way to start a career in STEM. By strengthening the relationships between firms and educational institutions, more students could be granted the opportunity of a first-hand experience of how companies work. However, while apprenticeships have the potential to reduce the STEM skills gap, it is up to companies and to the government to present them as an appealing and efficient step towards a career in the field.
Promoting gender inclusion
Another way to address the STEM skills gap is to focus on diversity. At present, 25% of women make up for the workforce in the STEM industries, while women from minority ethnic backgrounds account for just 6% of the workforce.
To answer to this call for inclusion many organisations are setting up dedicated diversity initiatives. One example is Amazon’s recently launched Amazon Amplify, a series of initiatives aimed at further increasing the number of women in technology and innovation. The programme builds on the already existing diversity-focused initiatives, one of which includes The Amazon Women in Innovation Bursary, designed to provide funding of over £130,000 a year for 24 female students to pursue their career in technology and innovation.
Another interesting initiative is a new online game called My Skills My Life. It was launched by WISE, a group dedicated to improving the gender balance in STEM. The game is focused on helping to changing the way girls perceive STEM subjects and encouraging them to explore the possibilities of working in STEM
It’s a great initiative for sure, both timely and fundamentally critical in terms of finding ways in which STEM companies can further boost gender diversity and inclusion, as employers would be overlooking a great talent pool if they did not encouraged women into their companies.
Early education can enhance the chances of sparking interest in STEM
How STEM careers are presented in the early stage of education is a crucial first step when addressing the skills gap in this field. Providing teachers with the necessary, state-of-the-art tools and training could have a great impact in sparking interest in students from primary school. Quality professional development for teachers should focus on creating content knowledge within the STEM subjects and training students to gain problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Children who are exposed to high-quality STEM experience are more likely to develop an interest and pursue a career in the field. This could particularly benefit girls and help end the stereotype of science and technology not being fields for women, which pushes them to self-selecting out of this type of careers in these fields.