How You See STEM, How You Don’t Part I

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This week BIS published a piece of research that explored young people’s perceptions of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects. The report contains buckets of useful information that I could blog on for hours, so for now I’ve focused in on a couple of areas of interest and will focus in on the perceptions on STEM a bit later on.

Firstly the research found that parents are the first line of influence for young people. Parents are the go-to for advice on both subject and career choices, particularly in the early years.

20% of 14-16 year olds turn to their parents to advice compared to 14% of 17 to 18 year olds.

However, the challenge is ensuring that parents know about the various opportunities that their children can take and tackling stereotypical views. Take Apprenticeships for example – whilst there has been a huge drive to encourage young people to pursue vocational pathways such as an Apprenticeships, many parents still do not regard Apprenticeships as a credible pathway as university. Indeed research by the Royal Academy of Engineering found that more than one in ten parents still maintain to Apprenticeships are a second best route to university.

The BIS research found that at Year 12, 68% of young people want to go to university compared to just 26% considering vocational routes.

The BIS perceptions research also found that parents can have ‘out of touch’ gender stereotypes. The gender divide is a massive challenge in manufacturing and engineering. We have blogged before on the low number of female engineers we have in the UK, especially compared to our European counterparts and the fact that only about 5% of manufacturing and engineering apprenticeships are taken up by females.

We need to get parents thinking of their daughters as the next generation of engineers. Action is being taken, albeit slowly – a large automotive company recently held an event of ‘bring your daughter to work day’ so that parents and indeed their daughters can better understand the opportunities available to them, and more and more of such events are beginning to be held.

Of course it’s not just parents that are influential, young people are also looking for role models (again something we have blogged on previously), and this is when celebrity status comes into play. The research finds that for boys there is a desire to follow passions and be like their sporting heroes and girls were looking up to actresses and fashionable celebrities.

Let’s not forget that what is considered ‘cool’ is constantly changing – speaking to a friend’s young daughter just the other day I was trying to be ‘cool’ and talk about One Direction to then be told that nobody is interested in 1D anymore it is all about the Vamps and 5 Seconds of Summer (that told me!) So we need celebrities that are on our screens and downloadable on our ITunes now.  Will.I.Am remains a great champion of STEM and the role STEM skills play in the music industry.

What was also interesting from the research is young people want to stand out from the crowd.

72% said to some extent they want to aim for a job that is unusual and exciting despite potential fierce competition.

Well step right up and enter into a world of engineering, a world of missiles, jets, prosthetics and racing cars.

Another line of the report reads – money is important but not critical. £25,000 is the median annual salary young people consider being a good salary – and with the average engineering graduate starting at £26,019 it seems our sector has the upper hand on this one.

So in summary young people are looking to their parents for a nudge or a nod towards certain career and subject choices. Tied into that they are looking for a tidy pay package, but not one that infringes on their work-life balance, and they would like to align themselves to a current and cool celebrity.

Quite a lot to think about, and we haven’t even touched on the perceptions of STEM – so come back soon to find out more!

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Head of Education & Skills Policy

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