We've teamed up with Technology Journalist and TV Presenter Maggie Philbin to help to make STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects more engaging for young people and improve their employability for the future. Maggie talks to us about her experiences in this area.
As an advocate for STEM, I’ve long been pushing to grow passion and engagement in these subjects with pupils across all age groups. It was fantastic to hear that new research from E.ON (1) shows us that, contrary to popular opinion, these subjects are actually among pupils’ favourites at school, with maths, science and technology all ranking in the top five.
But despite this, we still have a way to go. Statistics from the CBI show that two in five (43%) employers have difficulty recruiting staff with expertise in STEM subjects and more than half (52%) expect this to become an issue in the future.
So, why are we struggling to get more young people interested in STEM and following these subjects as a viable career path? And how do we solve this problem in the longer term?
This is a complicated issue, and not one that we can solve quickly. Pupils have to make decisions about their future career path very early on. If pupils haven’t chosen STEM subjects by the age of 16, it makes it incredibly difficult to pick these subjects up further down the line.
Indeed, E.ON’s research shows that one in six 16-18 year olds said they didn’t know what subjects they needed choose to support their future career path, and one in ten don’t think they need to don’t think they need to consider future career choices yet.
With pupils of this age already having chosen their GCSE and A-Level options, many could be leaving it too late to follow STEM subjects and therefore be missing out on opportunities as a result.
What can be done?
With this research in mind, it seems simple: We need to ensure children are engaged and excited by STEM subjects from an early age, so that they are aware of the job opportunities, skills and experiences these subjects can open up later in life. Fundamentally, I think we need to do more to open young people’s eyes to the opportunity that STEM subjects can bring and the career paths these subjects can lead to, from a young age.
Who can help?
In my opinion, there isn’t any one group responsible for this. Instead schools, parents and businesses all need to work together to ignite this passion for STEM and open up opportunities for young people to experience these careers. So, what can each of these groups do to develop the STEM specialists of the future?
Parents can’t be expected to be experts in every subject on their children’s behalf, but simply showing encouragement and interest in these areas with their children will help. Providing them with the opportunities to build, design and make things from a young age can help inspire passion in children.
In schools, it’s important to make these subjects as exciting and engaging as possible for students, but also to show them what they can lead to in the future, so they begin to get a feel for how these subjects can play a role in their career paths.
The research has shown that children are more likely to enjoy subjects like science if they get hands on experience and practical activities, or if they are able to take field trips to put the theory into practice. But schools have curriculums to follow and budget constraints that can make these live events difficult to deliver.
This is where businesses can play a key role. By funding sessions that get pupils out of the classroom and allow them to gain hands on experience, businesses can give young people a light bulb moment – where they see how what they’ve learnt in the classroom can evolve into a career that they love in the future.
I recently spent the day with a group of 43 young people as part of E.ON’s Energy Experience programme, at a live event where pupils has the opportunity to work as real-life engineers for the day. The pupils undertook a series of challenges using wind, solar and gas energy to deliver light to a consumer household.
I have no doubt that the experience these pupils gained as a result of the event will play a huge role in their future career decisions, and has opened these young people’s minds to the possibility of following STEM subjects into higher education.
As parents, schools and businesses continue to work together to ensure young people are gaining the experience they need to follow STEM in the future, I hope we will turn the tide and begin to see the influx of apprentices, graduates and experts in STEM subjects that we desperately need.
1. Stats based on the following research which was conducted for E.ON by OnePoll among three audience groups: 2,000 pupils aged 8-15 (23rd–29th July 2015); 500 pupils aged 16-18 (23rd – 28th July 2015); 1,000 parents of children aged 8-15 (between 23rd – 28th July 2015).