Better STEM info can help drive diversity

Imogen Parker, an Apprentice Technician for Civil & Infrastructure (Europe) at AECOM, is currently completing her level 6 qualification. Despite some progress being made, she believes STEM still has an image problem and school students need better information on what the sector can entail. 

(Credit: Harry Parvin/This is Engineering)

Over time the younger generation has become less engaged in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) related subjects and therefore it has been increasingly difficult to encourage young people to pursue a career in this field. With only a 6 per cent increase in students choosing STEM-related subjects at A-Level in the last year, it is fair to say there is still a lot of work to be done.

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Having studied chemistry and maths at school, problem solving has always been an interest of mine. Being able to do this for high profile clients including Network Rail is an opportunity not many people my age are given. Working and studying as an apprentice has enabled me to find out which area of engineering interests me the most. The versatility of the job empowers individuals to learn new things every day and provides the opportunity to learn valuable skills from people at all levels across the business. It is a privilege to be part of something which has an impact on so many people’s lives.

People often forget that science, technology, engineering and maths contribute to a growing, dynamic and innovative economy. The roads we walk down and buildings we pass all play a massive role in our day to day lives. Engineers design, create and connect the world around us whilst enabling local communities and people to flourish. But if this is true, why are UK businesses still struggling to fill STEM-related roles?

Misconception is one of the biggest challenges we face in the industry. There is a lack of information available outside of the sector, with a lot of people unaware of what engineering involves and how broad this area of study can be. For students to understand the benefits of working in engineering, more businesses need to work in partnership with schools and career advisors to ensure that all students are aware of the wide variety of careers available to them. In addition to this, it is crucial that teachers are given the right training and information to pass on to young people to ensure they understand how STEM subjects contribute to the world they live in and how they can be part of it.

Engineering is such a broad sector and is also often stereotyped as a male-dominated field, which can be damaging for aspiring female engineers. Although the UK was one of the first countries to encourage women to study and receive an academic qualification in both maths and science, only a small 12 per cent of females in the UK pursue a career in engineering. Whilst completing my engineering apprenticeship, I have witnessed the shortage of female engineers. During my time at college, I was the only girl in my class and now at university, I’m one of just three girls. People are often shocked when I tell them what I am studying and that shouldn’t be the case.

It is vital everyone is given the opportunity to pursue the career of their choice. For this to happen, business leaders, schools and higher education authorities need to work together to ensure all young people have access to the right information to help them decide.