Hurst College STEM Leader Amanda Jayne on why we need a major makeover in the promotion of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths

It’s 20 years since UK engineer, Sir Gareth Roberts, produced his report for the Chancellor on UK productivity and economic growth. He identified a significant shortage in the number of young people pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths – and ‘STEM’ subsequently became part of the educational lexicon. Initiatives have been around ever since, so when I introduce myself as the ‘STEM Leader’ at Hurst College, the acronym no longer requires laboriously spelling out – or so you would think.

Economic data shows that all developed countries still have a massive shortfall of trained people to meet predicted workforce demands. The UK is facing a well-documented engineering crisis. What is even more worrisome is that we still aren’t rearing a population fully prepared for the world they will live in. No matter what their career choice, they will all need skills to be able to cope with ever-increasing mechanisation, digitisation and artificial intelligence.

A STEM focused education system addresses these issues, helping students to develop confidence in experimentation and risk-taking (also building creativity). Students learn to examine problems and create logical plans to solve them, and in so doing develop critical-thinking skills. This, along with teamworking, data recording, report writing and presentation – all skills to prepare them for the workforce.

Hurst College on why STEM needs saving
Science is about awe and wonder, but also transferable skills that set students onto great career paths, says Amanda Jayne of Hurst College

Students with a STEM-focused education are more likely to be motivated to access careers which offer highly competitive salaries and rapid career progression. So why, after 20 years of government intervention, do we still need to promote STEM?  Studies cite several key reasons, with one of the main ones being the poor perception of technical jobs that young people and those who influence them still hold. Careers guidance is also blamed for not putting sufficient emphasis on these subject areas. There’s also a lack of employer engagement with STEM initiatives.

A bigger problem is that STEM promotion is everywhere and nowhere, with over 600 organisations involved in supporting engineering education. At Hurst, I have been involved with the Engineering Development Trust, the Big Bang Fair, CREST, Industrial Cadets and STEMnet. After 15 years, I am frustrated that I cannot quite explain how they link together, what they do differently or why there is a need for so many bodies. This appears to have created confusion and led to what could be referred to as ‘STEM fatigue’.

“We can all play a role in promoting awe and wonder in the pivotal roles that science and engineering play in our daily lives”

So, what’s the solution? From my own experience I can state with confidence that teachers are significant role models. We are all ‘influencers’ within the education system; our attitudes and passion for a subject can motivate and drive students to make career choices. What we say to our ‘followers’ does get heard, and we can help steer the next generation towards making better informed subject and career choices. Pan-curricular teacher training is also required; we can all play a role in promoting awe and wonder in the pivotal roles that science and engineering play in our daily lives.

STEM-based industries also need to be encouraged to be more active in forging formal links with local education settings, providing work experience, industry placements, tours, speakers and ambassadors. Without doubt, the STEM machine itself needs an overhaul, streamlining its provision and with clearer accessibility to the excellent initiatives it does offer.  

And finally, that acronym needs to be rescued – moved on from ‘the elephant in the room’ to something instantly acknowledged for its status as a respected enterprise designed to safeguard the economic security of our country and better equip us all for modern life.

Hurst College

Further reading: Mayfield School on smashing stereotypes in science