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% of manufacturing 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 careers.
In the 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 too late. 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