Sector focused industrial strategy and the role of STEM

Stimulating sustainable economic growth is key! In recent years the government has refocused its efforts towards developing a long-term industrial strategy that creates policy certainty for businesses. By designing a policy framework that goes beyond the five year parliamentary term, businesses are better able to make informed decisions with regards to investment, productivity and labour market opportunities.

STEM skills and the UK‘s Industrial ambition

A common theme of the government’s industrial strategy is focused on the need to improve the UK’s STEM capacity. A skilled workforce is the foundation of sustainable economic growth; those countries that are best able to adequately invest in workforce development often report the strongest rates of advancement.

STEM skills help to create new opportunities for growth by generating new ideas and new industries which in turn contribute to the UK’s economic output. According to recent research by the Royal Academy of Engineering, “the UK engineering workforce composition is 94% male and 94% white”. The employment gap in the sector is further plagued by an ageing workforce.

It is evident that much more should be done to increase participation of under-represented groups and to broaden the pool of talent available to employers in order to meet the high replacement demand projected in STEM professions. A step change in this direction will ultimately help to minimise the impending skills gap and increase the international competitiveness of the UK. Recruiters, employers and schools must work together to address the structural mismatch between education supply and business demand.

Kirsten Bodley, Chief Executive of the national charity STEMNET explains: “Given the diversity issues, especially in the engineering sector as highlighted through the Royal Academy of Engineering, we are proud that our STEM Ambassadors are diverse; with 40% female, around 13% from BAME (black and minority ethnic) and 60% under 35 years of age. Importantly, what they do has real impact and delivers results and I can share some of the highlights from an independent evaluation with you here:

• The number of pupils interested in studying Engineering in the future increases by more than 100% for those that have engaged with STEM Ambassadors
• 9 out of 10 teachers report an increased awareness of STEM subjects and their real world applications amongst their students
• More than three quarters of teachers consider that STEM Ambassador activity improved pupils’ motivations and aspirations to study STEM subjects further."

Coordinating education and skills policy with broader economic policy

The health of the economy relies heavily on the strength and availability of skilled workers. As a result, the link between economic development, education and workforce development must be closely aligned if we are to meet the needs of UK businesses. It is important that education and skills policy work in conjunction with broader economic policies to deliver on productivity and growth.

Out-dated perceptions of the engineering industry must be addressed in order to encourage young people to engage in the ‘world of STEM’. Better careers guidance in schools can help to demystify some of the negative connotations that may impact on the availability of the future pipeline of engineering talent. Government must create the right conditions for investment, innovation and long-term growth but employers and recruiters can do more to drive the skills agenda. This is the core aim of the REC’s Youth Employment Charter and other initiatives such as STEMNET’s ‘STEM Ambassadors’ scheme.

The government’s commitment to working in partnership with industry is a welcomed. However, it is important that in relation to building a comprehensive framework for skills development which supports careers in engineering, government must play a decisive role in providing a strong and competitive educational infrastructure. Government must ‘step up’ on STEM and increase the awareness of STEM subjects under the broader education reform to improve employment outcomes in high value industries.

For more information on becoming a STEM Ambassador and how members can get involved, please visit http://www.stemnet.org.uk/ambassadors/

Notes for editors:

About STEMNET: "We provide a unique bridge between businesses and schools through our STEM Ambassadors programme, which enables 26,000 volunteers to engage with young people across the UK, delivering practical STEM activities, giving careers talks to pupils and parents and supporting teachers by bringing the real world application of STEM subjects into the classroom."

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