The UK is experiencing a skills gap in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) roles. According to the IET, there’s a shortage of over 173,000 vacancies.
Skills gaps must be addressed in a number of ways, from embedding teachings and awareness of specific roles and sectors into school subjects to upskilling existing members of the labour force.
In positive news, more students are choosing STEM courses than ever before. But are their courses sufficiently preparing them for the vacancies that need to be filled?
Here, we’ll discuss whether education is preparing STEM students for their future careers and what more can be done to address this pressing skills gap.
Education needs to encourage STEM
There are few formal methods of promoting STEM careers among young children. Although taught science and maths from an early age, children aren’t made aware of how they can turn their skills and knowledge into a rewarding career. Often, they aren’t shown why they should pursue these subjects going beyond education too.
Beyond teaching children the basic principles of maths, science, and technology, it’s important to provide context for these subjects with real-life examples. An engaging way to do this could be through freely available tools like the Infinity STARship game from STEM Learning. These technologies can get children excited about the possibilities of science and engineering.
It’s also important to take gender biases into consideration from an early age. By GCSE level, boys are much more likely to rate STEM subjects as enjoyable than girls. This is despite the fact that girls outperform boys in these areas. Young girls should be taught that they can be anything they want to be from primary school onwards to cultivate a passion for STEM.
Could apprenticeships fill the skills gap?
In order to prevent a widening skills gap in STEM careers, school-age education should incorporate STEM promotion. But most of these young people won’t immediately enter the workforce. To address the immediate skills gap, businesses could look to employ young people who are studying for STEM apprenticeships; this will be especially useful in engineering and technology.
Apprentices can fill vacancies within businesses as part of their course. They’re learning how to be an engineer or IT professional alongside doing the job, so you can teach them the processes and jobs that are most important to your business.
Not only will this benefit businesses who are struggling to hire in STEM roles, but it also benefits young people looking to make a start in their tech, engineering, or science careers.
More practical learnings in higher education
While many higher education STEM programmes have practical elements, it’s well established that these can often be theory-based degrees. In order to effectively prepare students for the world of work, theory must translate into practice.
Courses that include work placements and the use of real-world, modern technologies, such as crowd simulation software, will put students in the best position to gain employment once they’ve finished their studies.
Many students who gain entry into university have gone down the traditional A-Level route. But higher education institutions should recognise and enrol students who have taken non-traditional pathways in their education. This change will allow learners who’ve taken vocational courses to take their STEM studies to the next level. Offering alternative routes into degree courses will allow a wider pool of students to progress into STEM careers via university.
STEM roles are becoming ever more important in the UK. The pressing skills gap must be addressed and there needs to be enough talented people to fill vacanies. STEM education and awareness should begin at primary school and continue throughout education. That way, the future generation of engineering and technology professionals will be prepared for the world of work.