How can teachers and employers work together to inspire and develop young people in STEM? Fran Dainty of STEM Learning offers her insights.
Nine in 10 STEM businesses (89%) have struggled to recruit staff with the required skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the past 12 months, leading to a shortfall of more than 173,000 workers.
These are the findings of recent research by STEM Learning – the largest provider of STEM education and careers support in the UK.
The survey of 400 HR directors and decision makers in businesses that rely on staff with STEM skills, found more than half (56%) expect the shortage to worsen over the next 10 years, with expansion in the sector set to nearly double the number of new STEM roles required. Building a reliable and skilled future STEM workforce is key to success.
Bridging the communication and activity between young people, teachers and employers is key”
For those businesses facing recruitment challenges, low awareness of the jobs available (31%) and a lack of meaningful work-experience opportunities (35%) were identified as key barriers to young people considering STEM careers.
So how can we ensure that every young person has the chance to explore opportunities in STEM careers? “It’s about the government, schools and employers working together, instead of in isolation,” asserts Fran Dainty, head of content and STEM expertise at STEM Learning.
“Bridging the communication and activity between young people, teachers and employers is key.”
Funding for STEM awareness
In 2014, STEM Learning launched ENTHUSE Partnerships. These Partnerships of four to eight schools and colleges improve young people’s engagement with, aspiration around, and achievement in STEM, along with their awareness and understanding of STEM careers.
Each partnership, which lasts for two years, can access up to £20,000 of funding. “Employers face challenges such as a shortage of talent in the local area; low applications; a lack of employer ready young people, or wider difficulties around diversity,” explains Dainty.
“They often spend time and energy running ‘one-off’ enrichment activities for schools, but it’s difficult to understand the impact. We use the partnership to look at what both schools and employers need, and co-design an action plan for both to implement over a sustained period.”
As part of this, STEM Learning works to understand local labour market information (Gatsby Benchmark 2), opportunities available for further STEM study, or direct pathways into a career.
“It’s getting to the crux of the Gatsby Benchmarks and looking at opportunities for young people to engage with employers,” says Dainty.
The employer is then invited to work hands-on with groups of schools local to their sites. Participating schools build strong links with the employers and their workforce, including ‘STEM ambassadors’, who help bring STEM subjects to life and demonstrate their value in life and careers.
“Ambassadors offer their time and enthusiasm to mentor young people, help teachers bring real-life STEM context to the classroom, and talk about career opportunities,” adds Dainty.
If you can instil a passion for the subject in a teacher who will work with hundreds of young people in a week, you’ll have a greater impact than focusing on one-off activities””
STEM-specific CPD for teachers
She explains that, at the heart of the partnership, is STEM-specific CPD for teachers. “If you can enthuse, motivate and instil a passion for the subject in a teacher who will work with hundreds of young people in the space of a week, you’ll have a greater impact than focusing on one-off activities.”
Employers also host STEM Insight placements for teachers to spend 5-10 days on-site, immersing themselves in the industry and seeing what jobs entail. Afterwards, teachers receive CPD to help them embed their learning into the classroom and convey what they have learned to pupils.
Keeping up with technology
To date, STEM Learning has supported 128 ENTHUSE Partnerships. External evaluation shows that 100% of participating head teachers would recommend these to a peer. With help from employers, STEM Learning hopes to support a further 1,000 partnerships over the next five years.
Dainty is confident that results will be noted within this time frame. “We want to see an increase in the number of young people pursuing STEM careers,” she says. “We’ve seen a positive trajectory in aspiration, interest and confidence and young people’s minds opened to STEM careers, so it’s exciting.”
“We will continue evolving support to fit the needs of schools and employers and will ensure this reflects new tech and future careers, so we are truly preparing young people to succeed. If that improves the STEM talent pipeline we’ll be happy.”
Working with GSK
This year, pharmaceutical giant GSK began working with STEM Learning through six new fully funded ENTHUSE Partnerships located near to GSK’s UK sites. These bring much needed support to groups of schools and colleges around the UK, enabling them to improve young people’s outcomes in STEM.
GSK is committed to encouraging more pupils, from all backgrounds, to progress in STEM studies and careers; supporting social mobility and underpinning the UK economy.
Participating schools are building strong links with GSK employees, including their STEM Ambassadors. Teachers benefit from proven STEM-specific professional development, and pupils will have multiple opportunities to learn where STEM can take them.
Dr Cara Matthew, acting deputy head from Monifieth High School, says: “We are thrilled to take part in this GSK ENTHUSE Partnership – it will enable us to work with other local schools and colleges to build a sustainable model of collaborative support, where we share good practice and expertise, providing pupils with a different experience of science and technology. Our aim is to increase the uptake and performance of our pupils in STEM subjects and to provide our young people with a greater insight into potential career pathways.”
For businesses, the partnerships will help build the STEM skills pipeline locally and nationally, boost employee motivation and skills through working with young people and develop relationships with future employees.
Kerry O’Callaghan, vice president, global brand, GSK, says: “As a science-led global healthcare company, GSK is committed to looking at ways to further STEM education, helping to inspire the next generation, who will deliver ground breaking ideas. We are excited to join the ENTHUSE Alliance to increase access to high-quality learning opportunities in STEM subjects.”