Wind the clock back a decade and you should be able to recall the first real push in quite a considerable amount of time on STEM. STEM, meaning science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, is an acronym coined by the National Science Foundation in the 1980s. However, it only really began to take off in the UK in 2009. In partnership with the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the University of Birmingham implemented a strategy they aimed to achieve within the next three years. The main basis for this strategy included:
Ten years on, has the ‘ambitious’ strategy been a success? Or has it been an acronym which couldn’t stand by itself?
It is no myth that the stereotypes which previously existed around STEM have been broken down. This is certainly a positive in terms of the strategy. In the past, STEM held connotations of being a male dominated industry which offered little in the way of excitement. But by emphasising the different career paths that could be taken, STEM established a new sense of vigour. No longer restricted to roles such as a chemist or mechanical engineer, the promotion of roles such as special effects director and geohazard specialists have helped increase the quad-industry’s popularity.
Here with Nifty Lifts, who provide cherry pickers, we take a look at how STEM has developed over the past ten years. We are analysing the number of people who have entered into apprenticeships, while examining what the future holds for STEM.
Up until recently there has been a major skill gap in STEM industries. The jobs we’re talking about are highly specialised and therefore tech companies are forking out a lot of money to employ people in STEM roles. When comparing average hourly wages of STEM jobs and non-STEM jobs, one study found that STEM jobs pay up to 99 per cent more per hour. If that isn’t an incentive for young people to get stuck into the industry, then I don’t know what is!
The scarcity of qualified candidates is one factor as to why these roles are so well paid. Therefore, training in a STEM subject will result in optimal job security and endless opportunities. In 2017, the UK government published a strategy to address the lack of skilled scientists, tech specialists, engineers and mathematicians. In the white paper, plans included, “establishing a technical education system that rivals the best in the world and to invest an additional £406 million in maths, digital and technical education, helping to address the shortage of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills.” This influx of money will boost the intake of students studying STEM education courses and eradicate the gap in the job market.
In 2017 112,000 people started an apprenticeship, up from 95,000 in 2013. Of this figure, approximately 50 per cent were women, which makes for great reading in terms of apprenticeships overall. However, when you consider this in terms of STEM, only eight per cent of the applicants were women. Between 2016 and 2017, 62,060 men achieved a core-STEM apprenticeship, yet during the same period only 5,080 women laid claim to the same qualification. So, effectively the number of women opting for an apprenticeship is increasing. But when it comes to STEM, the market share taken up by women is significantly less than men.
When we assess the number of women working within STEM, it is hardly surprising that few are applying to apprenticeship courses that would lead them to a STEM career. In fact, statistics suggest women only make up 13 per cent of the overall UK STEM workforce. For this career path to be more appealing, women need to be able to envision themselves as having a fair chance in the roles. This is difficult without female role models and pioneers within the field.
This polarity does not start in the workplace, however. In fact, the gender gap establishes itself back in early education. Despite the fact female students catered for 55 per cent of the overall A-Level grades achieved last year, they only made up 43 per cent of the grades awarded in STEM subjects. Although girls will be more likely than boys to take an A-Level in biology, mathematics and physics are seriously under-represented by women.
Businesses missing out on a heap of untapped talent because of this. Plus, girls who were particularly interested in the field from a young age are missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime working in a thriving industry. But why are females not taking these subjects in school?
Studies show that the gender gap in STEM subjects is being socially constructed. For example, boys are likely to out-perform girls in these subjects in countries which are more renowned for upholding gender stereotypes. Norway and Sweden on the other hand, are known for being general neutral in their teaching style. Therefore, this disparity between boys and girls in STEM subjects disappears.
Girls are likely to feel less confident and motivated in these subjects if the gender binary dictates that it will not be their forte. Therefore, they will be less likely to pursue a career in a STEM subject. Treating students equally and providing equal motivation despite their gender could lead to a larger amount of girls opting to take these subjects at school and then university.
Awareness and accessibility are key in establishing a world-leading STEM industry here in the UK. It is clear that the raw talent is there, and that gender should not be a detrimental factor. So, as long as the government keeps funding STEM opportunities and schools are encouraging their students equally, then the future for these industries look bright!