There’s a gulf developing between STEM careers and the number of qualified people available to fill it. Bridging this gap involves a multi-pronged approach, engaging with job hunters, recruits and schoolchildren. In particular, many companies have developed school and university schemes that are targeting the next generation.
One of the latest projects sees Barbie team up with Virgin Atlantic to promote a career in engineering. Part of Barbie’s Dream Gap Project, the dolls are designed to inspire and provide role models for young girls. The hope is that many will consider a future career in these areas as, currently, only 12 per cent of engineers are female and 4.3 per cent are pilots.
But things are looking up. The number of 16-year-olds who are considering engineering has risen from 40 per cent to 51 per cent over four years. Attitudes towards STEM are improving amongst school leavers and will continue to do so as more companies invest in ground-roots STEM promotion.
The space sector is also keen to attract young talent. This burgeoning sector has trebled in size since 2000 and directly employs more than 38,500 jobs in the UK. Currently worth more than £13.7 billion a year, it has ambitious aims to grow to £40 billion by 2030 – growth that’ll be fuelled by the younger generation.
Astronaut Tim Peake did a lot to promote the sector during his time on the International Space Station. Back on Earth, the National Space Academy is working with students and teachers to promote space careers, as well as to engage children in science and maths. The project is funded by 15 organisations, including Airbus and Rolls Royce. So far, over 20,000 students, 4000 teachers and hundreds of university graduates have been involved in its masterclasses.
Beyond space travel, Rolls Royce has also been developing STEM outreach programmes with Girlguiding UK and the Scouts Association. It sponsors badges and awards, including the Rolls Royce Science Prize, to motivate children to experiment with science and maths. It is also a partner of Project Enthuse, a scheme that provides STEM teacher training, equipping them to provide high-quality STEM education and talk about the many career routes available.
Microsoft, Bloomberg, GsK and P&G all sponsor TeenTech, an organisation that runs STEM events and awards for teenagers across the UK. Andy Wilson, chair and non-executive director of TeenTech explained how this inspires teens, “The diverse challenges that TeenTech sets enable children to develop their own ideas to solve problems from a range of sectors, helping them to learn what it takes to invent and prototype solutions.”
Indeed, building the skills and mindset to succeed in STEM is a core focus for many companies. Lego has an educational offshoot, Lego Education, that provides schools with fun and engaging ways to teach STEM. Their education sets feature the multi-coloured bricks that are synonymous with this brand and provides challenges (like building a duck) to encourage lateral thinking.
With many ways to inspire the next generation into STEM, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Organisations are taking different routes to engage with students at all levels, from toys and events to awards and training. As the skills gap worsens, expect to see more companies getting involved.
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