The spotlight's on STEM

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This week is Tomorrow's Engineers Week, and we have already seen a buzz of media and stakeholder activity that highlights the diversity, opportunity and reward on offer from a career in engineering.

One of the themes that has come out strongly during this week, has been the need for young people to study, and grasp, the key subjects needed to pursue a career in engineering – science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

We have blogged on this previously, when discussing A-Levels, but what has topped the agenda this week, has been the need for young people to be inspired by STEM subjects at an earlier age.

Some headway has been made, with the number of young people sitting GCSEs in physics, chemistry, biology and maths all increasing this year. But we can't become complacent, the figures are nowhere near where we want them to be, and the gulf between young females and males in subjects such as physics, has become even more apparent.

Luckily, there are a lot of organisations, doing a lot of good things, and in recent years we have seen an array of STEM initiatives introduced to get young people interested in these key subjects.

For manufacturers, such schemes are the best way forward as a (yet-to-be-released) EEF survey reveals that:

62% of manufacturing employers believe STEM initiatives driven by schools and business will encourage more young people to consider a career in engineering.

And EEF members aren't just talking about it, they are acting upon it.

Earlier this year, EEF members in the North East sponsored the excellent work of Primary Engineer, a not-for-profit organisation that, amongst other things, delivers courses to teachers to apply practical maths and science skills to modern design and technology projects.

Such methods are effective, and it is for that reason, our Skills for Growth report, published last year recommended that:

Teachers spend two to five days in industry, as part of their continuous professional development (CPD) , so that employers can show them how their subjects are applied in the workplace, which they can then take back to the classroom to help inspire potential engineers of the future.

This week, the Perkins' Review of Engineering Skills made a similar recommendation, calling on industry to provide CPD for teachers, giving them experience of working in industry to put their practical context.

It is clear then we are all singing from the same hymn sheet – Government must now ensure the right environment is in place to make this happen.

Steps are being taken, as Government, in response to the Perkins' Review has committed:

£250,000 of seed funding to enable Tomorrow's Engineers to accelerate the nationwide rollout of its employer engagement programme.

But we also need a national campaign rolled out to get businesses and schools working together to promote STEM in schools, through any programme, because believe me there are plenty!

I was lucky enough to shortlist some of the entries EEF's latest Awards category – Partnership with Education. The work manufacturers are doing to engage with schools, particularly focused on STEM, was overwhelming. (And I look forward to seeing who the winner is, when they are announced in January!)

But more can be done to drive forward such innovative partnerships.

Businesses need better information on how they can get involved in STEM schemes that bring together schools and employers.

We see a role for a body such as STEMNET to act as an umbrella, to signpost businesses to the various schemes they can get engaged with so they can choose the scheme that works best for them.

But to ensure we end on a particularly high note, it delights me to say that today, our partnership with Primary Engineer rolls out further, with member companies in the Yorkshire and Humber region, now joining forces to support schools in their area.

So here's to a very successful Tomorrow's Engineers Week, and we look forward to the next one!

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Head of Education & Skills Policy

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