Good signs for STEM, but still work to do

The Paul Jackson column

The chief executive of Engineering UK finds much good news in the latest crop of STEM GSCE and A-level results, but careers advice and resources still need attention

Many of the parents among you will have weathered the emotional storm caused by GCSE or A-level results day recently. It’s a tense time for young people, with grades shining a spotlight on study efforts and shaping their next steps. 

GCSE and A-level results are also a report card for the engineering community. Much is written about the shortage of engineers in society. Now that we are doing something about it on a large enough scale to make a difference, through programmes like The Big Bang and Tomorrow’s Engineers, we’re seeing the rewards through young people’s subject choices and rapidly improving public perceptions.

“The low number of female students taking physics A-level this year underlines that there is still much to be done

We were delighted to see the increased take up of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) A-level and theincrease in young people studying GCSE psychics, as part of triple science, and maths. It was particularly good to see a significant rise in girls taking GCSE physics.  The increase is crucial for the UK economy – these young people are our engineers and scientists of the future. The low number of female students taking physics A-level this year (20.7%) underlines that there is still much to be done to guarantee that the UK continues to grow the skilled work force needed to drive growth, however.

With the demise of Connexions and the current lack of an effective replacement for careers information and guidance, The Big Bang and Tomorrow’s Engineers are bridging the gap left behind. Both programmes provide careers information and resources, and the opportunity to get advice straight from the horse’s mouth. Face-to-face advice and guidance is an essential part of an effective careers service and through our programmes young people are able to speak to people employed in a wide range of STEM careers.

The evaluation of The Big Bang Fair in 2013 found that young people, teachers and parents viewed STEM careers more positively as a result of the Fair. Over half of our 11-14 year-old visitors spoke to exhibitors about careers, and nearly three quarters said they now know how to access further information on careers in science and engineering as a result of their visit.

“Next year The Big Bang Fair is at The NEC, Birmingham, where we expect to welcome over 70,000 visitors

Next year The Big Bang Fair is at The NEC, Birmingham, where we expect to welcome over 70,000 visitors. The programme is expanding its regional and local model of Near Me Fairs, last year reaching over 20,000 young people. Tomorrow’s Engineers is working with businesses to create tailor-made school engagement schemes per region, engaging over 50,000 pupils per year, and growing. 

As you can see, by working together, we’re continuously striving to reach more young people with positive STEM messaging and are making an impact on STEM subject choices and career decisions. We can only continue to effect change with the support of engineering businesses, government, professional bodies and the wider engineering community. If you want to get involved, get in touch!