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Who is STEM for anyway?

Too often STEM opportunities are given to gifted and talented pupils in one or more of the STEM subjects. STEM clubs have requirements in terms of grades for pupils to attend. STEM university visits are arranged for higher ability pupils before they choose their GCSE’s, to encourage them to make appropriate choices. Extras support in Maths is offered to under achievers and those labelled ‘pupil premium’ ignoring the average pupil. So just who is STEM for anyway?

In 2011, “The current and future UK science workforce” paper produced for The Science Council found that 5.8 million people were employed in the science sector, which equates to 20% of the UK workforce, ranging from construction and ICT to health and education. The report projects that there will be over 7 million people employed in science based employment by 2030.

However, this projection could face the issue of a lack of employees available. STEM qualifications have been in the news recently, warning of a shortfall of 80,000 workers in the STEM employment sector within the next two years. This information was provided by Semta - the sector skills council for science, engineering and manufacturing technologies. What is not clear from this is the type or qualification of the missing workers.

We are not producing enough STEM graduates in the UK yet, although trends show an increase in uptake of STEM subjects at university. More awareness is being raised within education to provide better information to pupils when picking their options for A-levels and university. Just like average pupils being ignored pre-GCSE, it’s easy to forget to provide information on STEM careers to those not intending to apply for university.

The Russel Group of Universities produced a report in February2009 with the following statement:

”To support the UK’s ambition to move to a higher level of research and development (R&D) intensity, it is crucial to ensure that the UK has the right stock and flow of skilled scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians, as well as technicians and other R&D support staff, generated from within the UK and attracted from abroad. A highly skilled, diverse workforce will contribute to business productivity and innovation, enabling UK businesses to exploit fully new technologies and scientific discoveries, achieve world-class standards and compete globally.”

This report recognises that not every STEM worker has to be a graduate, and the importance of skilled technicians is vital for UK based businesses to succeed.

Rolls Royce, BAE Systems and other manufacturers rely on a STEM qualified workforce to maintain their status as leading manufacturers in the UK and nationally. STEM careers not only include the designers and engineers that design the next jet engines or nuclear submarines, but also the technicians that install the fan blades and the electricians fitting the wiring. As such, RollsRoyce itself offers advanced or modern practical apprenticeships to pupils with four GCSE’s grades D and above and BAE systems minimum requirement is 5 GCSE’s grade D and above.

So who is STEM for anyway? If STEM industry giants such as these recognise the STEM potential in average people, surely it’s time schools provide information and opportunities to everybody. Those average pupils in your classroom that want to come along to STEM club could be welding engines onto fuselages in the future. Those that love Biology but don’t achieve as well in Maths could be providing basic medical care to you when you are elderly. Ask any Science or Technology teacher – without the technicians, nothing works! So next time you get an email about a STEM opportunity, think carefully about just who STEM is for anyway.

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