Despite plentiful campaigning in recent years to encourage more students and young people into STEM studies, there is still a shortage of new recruits in many countries across Europe. Manufacturing and engineering remain vital industries in developed countries and it is crucial that today’s youth understand what a fascinating and enjoyable career they can achieve through STEM subjects.
The following are a series of initiatives and ideas, some of which are already in place and making a difference, to encourage young adults into science, maths and engineering;
1. Spark an interest early on
From a very early age, children want to learn more about the world around them. Encouraging an interest in vehicles, the natural world, hands-on creativity and outside the box thinking quickly helps toddlers and children to peruse more information. Increased funding by schools, parents, companies, and government in early education would have a great impact (as has been proved by Lego, who recognised the potential for children to construct anything from buildings to robots and more!)
2. Encourage children and teenagers to question how things work
Despite teenagers having a reputation for being withdrawn and moody, their brains at this age are growing and learning rapidly making them sponges for the information around them. Visiting museums with children, teenagers and adults alike can create new interests in the field of STEM by capturing imaginations and using hands-on techniques such as those employed at the London Science Museum.
3. Help them see the potential
STEM studies are so varied and intricate that within that category there are hundreds, if not thousands, of potential jobs available to students when they leave school or further education. It is crucial that students are given the help and advice necessary to provide them with the ability to make an informed decision – is university the right path? Should an apprenticeship be considered instead? Perhaps students who may not suit the traditional trajectory of further education may get the same enriching experience from an active and engaging trade based apprenticeship. There is no defined path to STEM industries and all routes are valid.
4. STEM is everywhere
From new emerging technologies that capture imaginations such as modern space technology or robotics, to traditional fields such as mathematics and engineering, STEM is omnipresent in modern life. While mobile phones get a bad reputation, the science and technology knowledge required to build apps and computer games is advanced and can be encouraged from an early age. After school clubs and extracurricular activities exist for this purpose – and if they don’t you can set them up yourself!
5. Positive role models
There are a plethora of modern and historical role models for young people in technological studies and industries. From billionaire celebrities like Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs to inspiring accomplished women such as the first female computer programmer Ada Lovelace; new research from Microsoft has even proved women and girls are twice as likely to study STEM subject if they have a role model in the field. Despite having a traditionally male reputation there are many interesting and varied participants in the field, with films having been made about such characters as Alan Turing (The Enigma Code) and Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson in Hidden Figures. With gripping plot lines and famous actors, they provide an accessible route for teenagers and older students to find role models for themselves.
6. Encouraging Women Into STEM
Much of the current shortfall in qualified STEM industries workers is due to the gender gap – according to Microsoft, women make up only 30% of Europe’s ICT workforce. The results from their survey showed up to 51% of younger female students can imagine a career for themselves in scientific industries but this does not translate as they get older, leaving a shortfall in the number of women going on to study STEM subjects and work in related industries. Providing support, funding and opportunity for women in the workforce is crucial, as is starting this process early to ensure young women interested in these fascinating subjects don’t fall through the net. Relating to the previous point, Microsoft’s study even found girls with positive female role models in STEM were less concerned about their male peers’ approval, more likely to contribute to discussions and be more confident in their own ability.
As demonstrated, there are plentiful ways to encourage young people into STEM studies and careers, and it is up to industry leaders such as ourselves to support and nurture an interest in the way the world works from an early age. We are strong believers in the power of youth and hope it can be harnessed now to help solve problems facing the world as well as to continue STEMs legacy of innovation long into the future.