Science and engineering are crucial to life in the 21st century, and key to solving many of the world’s major challenges. However, there is a shortage of scientists and engineers across the European Union, with 43% ofmanufacturing employers reporting difficulties in recruiting an appropriately skilled workforce1. Industry stakeholders across Europe are concerned by the lack of interest shown by school children and young graduates in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and related careers2. Inthe UK alone, engineering employers need to recruit 182,000 workers a year with engineering skills at apprentice and graduate level until 2020 and beyond. Currently, 26,000 people are entering engineering occupations, and therefore the shortfall is of great concern3. Increasingly, European Union countries are realising the importance of focusing on the pipeline of scientists and engineers; schools, colleges and universities. What can be done to reverse the trend and attract more young people in to the manufacturing sector, and related science and engineering careers? For many years, efforts have been made in STEM education to attract graduates and school leavers to become industrial scientists and engineers, but research is now showing that interventions at this age are toolate. Children as young as 10 years old are ‘switching off’ from science and engineering careers4. The long term impact of this will be the inability of European Union employers to fill crucial vacancies in 5-10 years’ time. In the UK, The Confederation of British Industry recognises this early ‘switch-off’ from science, and has called for greater support from businesses to ensure primary school science is inspirational and children are aspirational5. Individual sectors, such as the chemical sector, are also creating their own strategies to overcome these issues6.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
There are many initiatives in place to tackle the ‘switch off’ from science, and companies need to carefully decide which ones to engage with, both financially and in terms of the time involved. To decide, a company should ensure that they understand how the benefits and impact of any initiative align with and support the company’s goals. Sponsoring a school’s football team may help to improve the local image of that company with the children and parents involved, but will make little difference to the children’s career choices. A carefully chosen STEM initiative will do both.
Companies must turn to initiatives that measure impact, firstly in terms of children’s perceptions of STEM subjects and secondly, knowledge of and aspirations towards the STEM industries. The following initiatives do just that.
1 Reyman Dafne et al (2015), LABOUR MARKET SHORTAGES IN THE EUROPEAN UNION, DIRECTORATE GENERAL FOR INTERNAL POLICIES
2 Durando M., European Schoolnet, Motivation criteria leading students to opt for science studies and jobs - STEM | Module 1 | Increasing students’ engagement to study STEM | EUN Academy, 2014 www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtA7SjUu3IA
3 Reiss, MJ et al (2015) The State of Engineering, Engineering UK
4 Archer, L et al (2013), ASPIRES: Young People’s Science and Career Aspirations age 10-14. Porter C & Parvin, J (2010) Learning to Love Science: Harnessing children’s scientific imagination
5 Confederation of British Industry (2015) Tomorrow’s World: Inspiring Primary Scientists
6 Chemical Growth Partnership (2013) Strategy for delivering chemistry-fuelled growth of the UK economy