Gill Collinson, Head of the National STEM Centre highlights the significance of STEM in modern life
‘STEM’ is the buzz word of the moment in education. Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, summed it up last year 1 when she said: “the subjects that keep young people’s options open and unlock doors to all sorts of careers are the STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and maths.” With a huge push in business, government and education to move STEM to the top of the agenda, you might be asking – what’s so special about STEM?
It touches almost every aspect of modern life. Britain has always been at the forefront of ingenuity. Some of the most significant discoveries of the past 100 years were made in the UK. Britain started the Information Age, following on from our invention of the telephone and television with the World Wide Web, which now underpins almost every aspect of modern life. Huge leaps in medical science would not have been possible without the British discovery of penicillin or the structure of DNA.
The UK’s STEM industries also pack a punch. In ‘The state of engineering’ 2, Engineering UK reports that in 2014, the engineering sector contributed an estimated £455.6bn, the space sector contributed £9.1bn and the information technology sector £66bn to the UK economy. The numbers of job opportunities being created in STEM industries over the next decade will be huge. The United Kingdom Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES)’ Working Futures’ model predicts that over 14 million jobs will need to be filled between 2012 and 2022. This is as a result of predicted growth in some sectors and occupations, however much of the need is as a result of people leaving the workforce, getting promoted or retiring, with most ‘hard to fill’ vacancies looking for people with strong STEM knowledge and skills.
In their 2014 Education and Skills report, ‘Gateway to Growth’ 3, the CBI highlighted the importance of STEM skills and excellent career advice in continuing to support these burgeoning industries. They predict a 52% rise in demand for highly skilled workers in engineering, science and hi-tech industries. Indeed, both the CBI and Engineering UK warn of dire economic consequences if we don’t meet the demand for the number of skilled individuals required in our STEM industries. Engineering UK predicts that failure to meet these skills demand could cost the UK £27bn a year.
The government is putting the building of strong STEM skills and industry in the UK at the heart of its economic plan for the UK. In July this year, Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and Science, announced One Nation Science 4, a diverse program intended to boost research, skills and jobs in STEM across the UK. As part of this scheme, £67m has been set aside to find an extra 2,500 maths and physics teachers in the next 5 years, as well as to provide additional training for 15,000 existing maths and physics teachers. At the National STEM Centre, we support teachers across the UK with training and access to free, high-quality resources, to ensure they have everything they need to go out and inspire their students. The Your Life campaign 5, another government initiative, aims to increase participation in maths, with an ambitious target to increase the number of students taking maths and physics at A level by 50% in 3 years.
In the fast-paced, global economy we need our young people to have world-class education if we’re to stand a chance of keeping up. So why are STEM skills and industries so important? It’s clear that the UK’s future economic success and competitiveness depend on rebalancing the economy and, as part of this, expanding our knowledge-intensive industries with high levels of productivity and innovation. We need to continue to improve the STEM skills of the workforce in order to expand sectors such as advanced manufacturing, the digital and creative sectors and green businesses, all of which are underpinned by high-level STEM skills. By investing in STEM and our young people, we will remain at the cutting-edge of new technology, pioneering new science and at the forefront of ground-breaking discoveries. From building coding skills into the primary curriculum to educating young people on the benefits of following a STEM career, we have made much progress – but there is more still to do.
Gill Collinson joined the National STEM Centre in 2014 from Siemens Energy. Gill is a Chartered Engineer and has worked across both the private and public sectors.
The National STEM Centre works with schools across the UK to support excellent STEM education. www.nationalstemcentre.org.uk.
The National STEM Centre