With media reports coming out almost every week bemoaning the STEM skills shortage in the UK, it is now commonly accepted that something needs to be done. Some have even called it a national crisis. It is hardly surprising when the UK Commission for Employment and Skills research found that 43% of STEM roles are hard to fill due to skills shortages.
The question is, how do we make up for such a huge shortfall of talent coming out of the education sector? At Celsian Education, we believe that it is not entirely down to the syllabus (though there are improvements that could be made in this regard), and the teachers that pass on information to students. To overcome such a significant obstacle, the science, clinical and engineering sectors need to work more closely with the education sector.
The STEM of the problem — reputation
One of the biggest issues we face in the education sector is the profile STEM has in society. Whilst children used to grow up wanting to be astronauts and doctors, today they want to be social media stars. It’s something that is often heard in our classrooms, and for science teachers, it can be disheartening.
So what can and should be done? It is, to a certain degree, the responsibility of science companies to portray themselves as something more open, honest and attractive to young people. Part of this is the way the science, clinical and engineering sectors present themselves online.
Whilst we understand that these industries don’t want to dumb-down the vital work they do, for kids to become engaged, brand identities need to be modernised for generation Z. From engaging blogs, to entertaining social media accounts — engagement needs to be driven through the channels that young people connect with most.
What can be done in the education sector to help the STEM skills shortage?
Fundamentally, the classroom is the environment where STEM skills are developed. But for the students to come out of schools with the relevant skills, more focus needs to be placed on technology and specialist knowledge. The education sector is generally slow to adopt the latest technologies, though there are some startups who are entering the fold. But more still needs to be done — especially when it comes to the skills needed for science and clinical professions.
Beyond this, science, clinical and engineering companies need to engage with schools directly. Whether it’s coming into our classrooms to teach students about what companies do, giving career advice on how to get into STEM professions, or exhibiting the long-term possibilities for students who harness the best STEM skills, having that personal connection can enhance the chances of filling STEM skills shortages.
Aside from this, one of the major issues affecting STEM education is staffing. Technical knowledge in the wider world often exceeds that in the classroom. There simply aren’t enough highly specialised STEM teachers right now.
Science, clinical and engineering companies could help in this regard. By up-skilling the teaching talent we currently have, we could create experts out of already exceptional teachers. Companies could offer free training courses on the issues affecting your industry. By partnering with schools in this way, we can mould and enhance the talent we already have at our disposal. Once trained, that knowledge can then be effectively passed on to students who would then, hopefully, leave school and enter long-term STEM professions.
Essentially, whilst it is easy to blame the STEM skills shortage on issues ranging from Brexit to teacher shortages, what needs to happen is a long-term commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration.
Whilst teachers need to listen to what clinical, science and engineering companies have to say — providing that organisations are willing to share their knowledge — the STEM sector also needs to listen intently to what teachers are saying. After all, it is they who see first hand the issues that are preventing the UK from creating the talent needed to drive our society in the future.
For this to happen, STEM organisations and schools need to foster close, consistent bonds that attract, shape and develop the talent of the future.