Issues regarding STEM skills have been increasing over the last few years, with the number of workers with the adequate skills to fill the skills gap not existing. As the STEM skills gap grows, so does the stigma that not enough women are in the industry contributing to the lack of skills in the sector. With this in mind it has brought food for thought to the government, businesses and the education sector to improve this. From educating the younger generation in formal lessons to targeting those in the workplace, STEM education must be incorporated in every aspect of a career journey to effectively solve the STEM skills problem.
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects have been around longer than your Nan, but in today’s digital age the importance of STEM is increasing every day. There is a lack of digital skills across all industries, from administrative assistants to financial gurus and to close this gap more must be done at the core of development- education.
Almost half (44%) of Europeans do not have basic digital skills, according to a report from the European Commission, despite the need for the skills across almost all job sectors. Having such a substantial number of adults uneducated in a growing industry is worrying for businesses, and their potential to grow. Without knowledge of how to work digitally and embrace new technology businesses could cease to succeed as quickly, or at all, as they want to.
The lack of skills workers have will hamper every aspect of a business, from innovation, growth, productivity and potentially security. There are not many more reasons why STEM education must improve now.
The world of STEM education is currently in a catch 22 situation. As the gap widens, it becomes harder to train enough in the appropriate skills to close the gap. With the widening gap in STEM and digital skills, it leaves fewer individuals available to educate more people in the sector. Therefore, educating STEM is not just about being in schools or universities but within companies to ensure digital workers coming into the industry can be trained efficiently.
An unsurprising barrier to many within STEM education is the lack of females within the technology industry predominantly, brought on by unconscious stereotyping at the core of development – education years. Research from CA technologies suggests that the classroom stereotype of gender in STEM will impact decision making, as STEM workers are more often perceived to be male than female.
Amy Lynch, Head of Diversity at ThoughtWorks, puts the stereotype barrier down to a lack of role models that are already in the STEM world. Lynch spoke to CBR Government and said: “There’s a definite lack of visible role models having successful and rewarding careers in technology. If young girls don’t regularly see people like them with the same interests and ambitions, they may not necessarily see a path or future for themselves in tech.
“The media perpetuates the idea that tech is a men’s game and if we can change this, there will be a profound effect on girls growing up and thinking about their future careers. We need to focus more on the positives and the opportunities in tech to show young women how rewarding a life in STEM can be.”
What is being done to boost STEM Education?
STEM education is important to business growth and does not just mean educating at a school level, as Philip Hammond outlined in his Budget. The UK’s Chancellor plans to allocate £100m digital skills and £30m to STEM ‘distance’ courses. Hammond pledged £100m additional funding to STEM and digital skills and £30m specifically to individuals not in education.
This investment aims to improve the STEM education system by creating 8,000 new teaching jobs, which ensures students do not miss out on opportunities due to lack of staff. CA Technologies has also worked with its STEM ambassadors to overcome this issue and provide more opportunities. The company has introduced unbiased training to students, removing the stereotype that only men can work in engineering for example.
Lynch said: “It’s important to provide opportunities for young girls to learn about tech and encouraging girls to take the STEM route if it interests them is vital. We often hear that young girls are advised against STEM education and careers because ‘there aren’t many women’ in these fields and this attitude needs to stop.
“A deeper insight into tech companies and showing what a career in this field looks like would help girls to understand the realities of the industry and tackle misconceptions. For example, we talk to young people about what tech careers might look like, by going into schools and bringing students into our offices, to experience the working environment and ask any questions they have.”
Many organisations such as ThoughtWorks offer routes into tech. For example, ThoughtWorks’ scholarship that is operated by six high professional women in tech offering funding for a coding boot camp alongside professional coaching. To encourage more women to take a career in STEM is to reassure them that their career prospects will not change regardless of life events such as having a child.
Though the younger generation is heavily targeted, to create the STEM workers of tomorrow, Hammond’s budget brings in training for those already in the industry. The £30m allocation will allow those in work or unable to access physical training to carry out the course at home, still getting the necessary skills. Ensuring all employees have the adequate STEM and digital skills could be the difference between a good and bad day at the office. ThoughtWorks also offers solutions to those in STEM, especially women, ways to overcome such barriers.
Lynch continued and said: “We’re exploring different working patterns to remove potential barriers and help people balance their needs, through offering flexible working options to current and future employees and looking at how we might support women coming back into the industry through returnships.”
STEM Education outcomes
If STEM is not tackled today, there seems an inevitability of business. If businesses lack the STEM skills needed for workers to function effectively in the workplace, all elements of the business will begin to slow and eventually come to a stop.
As Brexit slowly arrives, STEM education is under fire more than ever before, due to the possibility of talent being lost over border control. The UK must address the gap in STEM education and digital skills to ensure it can still thrive in the technology industry, and continue to compete (and often beat) with the likes of other European and global cities. Last year London was named the top location for technology start-ups to home their creations in. With a lack of digital skills and STEM education, this could change in years to come, leading to London losing its hard-worked-for status.
Lack of talent and education in the UK will lead to falling productivity, efficiency and potentially a poor future for businesses. Therefore, it is key to ensure that STEM education is at the forefront of all curriculums to ensure that the worst case scenario of business failure does not happen.
Investment and opportunities created by both Hammond will provide positive outcomes for STEM education, by demonstrating what is available and encourage more individuals to take up the opportunity. STEM education will help grow businesses and make them more productive through the skills quality workers have.
Furthermore, if STEM education is successfully deployed it will bring more equality in the sector ensuring that both genders are evenly represented at all levels, as well as being paid the same levels. From a gender perspective, STEM education is important as it will help break down the barriers against women in tech and the stereotypes that follow.
Already FTSE 350 board members are demonstrating the positive outcomes, as 28% of women make up the boards improving 12.5% since 2011. The aim is to achieve at least 30% of board members to be women, according to the Hampton-Alexander Review last year, demonstrating the barriers are being broken in the industry it just needs to happen in education too.
STEM education is important for a business because it will bring a positive mind-set for individuals and businesses as well as increases in profits. CA Technologies’ research predicts that by 2025 there will be 8.2 million new STEM jobs across Europe, bringing a much wanted positive outcome for STEM education.