STEM: Employers opening their doors to teachers

Written by: Edwina Dunn | Published:
Image: iStock

Young people are continuing to shun opportunities to study STEM subjects despite the digital skills crisis that faces the UK. Edwina Dunn says the answer lies in employers being more willing to open their doors to teachers…

A looming digital skills crisis is facing the UK. Businesses will become increasingly dependent on digital knowledge and numerical analytics, meaning skills in maths and physics will become increasingly important in entry level employees.

Despite this, many young people are turning their backs on the qualifications that will equip them to meet the challenges of this digital world head-on.

The Your Life campaign recently reviewed the attitudes of 1,000 young people between the ages of 11 and 18. They found only a third were planning to study maths and science at A level, yet the same research showed a significant number wanted to pursue a career which requires STEM qualifications.

In fact, five of the most desired careers were STEM based. Nearly a third (30 per cent) were interested in undertaking a career in gaming and nearly a fifth (19 per cent) in IT. This research points to an alarmingly low level of awareness about the importance of these subjects in allowing young people to pursue their desired career. This increasing skills gap and low level of awareness is having a big impact on recruitment. Recent research found that 59 per cent of businesses and 79 per cent of universities believe there aren’t enough skilled candidates leaving education to meet industry’s employment demands.

Additional research by the CBI shows that employers think a lack of skills is the greatest threat to UK competitiveness. With increased uncertainty following the Brexit vote it is more imperative than ever to focus minds on the skills we need to compete in the global economy.

While there are many reasons for young people’s lack of interest in taking STEM subjects at A level, Your Life research shows that the “image” of these subjects continues to be a key issue. Only 31 per cent of boys think STEM careers are innovative and just 23 per cent think they are cutting edge. Despite much attention, the male-female divide continues, while one in five young people think these industries are male-dominated, this rises to nearly one in three in young women. Girls are also far more likely to say they find these subjects too hard: 6.1 per cent versus 1.3 per cent of boys.

Despite the rising number of digitally focused jobs, over two-thirds of young people don’t feel that science or maths are relevant to many careers. This points to a clear gap between the worlds of work and education, which businesses must address to ensure they have a future workforce that will meet their needs.

This lack of understanding on the part of young people is understandable, given that more than half have never interacted with a STEM employer or further education provider. Interacting with employers is vitally important for young people’s development.

Research from the Education and Employers charity shows young people who have had multiple encounters with business while at school are significantly less likely to become NEET, earning on average, 18 per cent more than peers who hadn’t.

Our own Tough Choices report also suggests a direct correlation between young people meeting STEM employers and taking these subjects at A level.

For many young people, their teacher remains a vital source of careers guidance. So we want to help teachers gain a first-hand experience of the world of work, especially the fast-changing world of tech and digital. Your Life is calling on STEM, new tech and digitally focused businesses, to open their doors to teachers.

Equipping teachers with knowledge of the rapidly changing world of work will in turn give young people better information on the importance of STEM qualifications. Ultimately this will help these young people secure the careers they are most interested in – and more importantly – in fields where we can predict many more future jobs. Collaboration like this is the only way we can achieve lasting change for young people and ensure we close the persistent STEM skills gap that hampers business growth and our economy today.

  • Edwina Dunn is the chair of Your Life, which is a three-year campaign sponsored by industry and supported by the government to ensure the UK has the maths and physics skills it needs to succeed in today’s competitive global economy. Visit


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