Science minister David Willetts on the importance of STEM subjects

Getting young people interested in STEM careers is a priority for government, says the minister for universities and science

Engineering is vital to growth and the rebalancing of our economy. It underpins our most advanced industries, supports high-tech jobs and helps us design and make innovative new products. As a result of this, people with these skills are in high demand, nationally and internationally.

We know that more students are choosing to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects at both A-level and at university. But in order to support this vital sector, we need to ensure that there are people who want to pursue engineering as a career, not just a subject choice.

The government is absolutely committed to supporting this. Through our science and research budget, we fund a range of events and activities to encourage people from all backgrounds to pursue STEM careers and to show how rewarding they can be. This includes the STEM Ambassadors programme, the Big Bang Fair and the National Science and Engineering Competition. I presented this year’s awards and was incredibly impressed at the standard and enthusiasm of entrants.


In November, we announced two initiatives that will improve the information that is available to young people considering careers in STEM subjects.

The first is government support for an employer-led scheme to facilitate the kite marking of STEM degree courses. This will signal which courses best prepare students for employment in particular sectors or occupations.

The second initiative is the extension of the STEM Ambassadors programme into higher education. This will offer undergraduates access to mentoring support drawn from the existing network and raise the profile of the STEM sector.

We must ensure that there are young people who want to pursue engineering as a career

At postgraduate level, our Research Councils work closely with industry to ensure that training is of a high quality and to provide students with vocational experience alongside academic training. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, for example, brings students together in Doctoral Training Centres that address important areas — such as renewable energy — with industry partners such as BP and Rolls-Royce.

This helps give students the right skills to succeed in their careers, be that in academia or in the private sector.

We are also helping to make alternative routes available into highly skilled careers such as engineering and manufacturing.

We have radically expanded the number of degree-level apprenticeships for young people, helping to put practical learning on a level footing with academic study. Our £25m Higher Level Apprenticeships Fund is intended to support up to 25,000 apprenticeships in sectors including construction, advanced engineering, insurance and financial services.

Around 250 employers — including Leyland Trucks, Unilever, TNT and Burberry — will benefit from world-class, nationally accredited technical training delivered in the workplace.

Getting young people interested in STEM careers is a priority for government. I hope I have shown that there are not only opportunities to learn more about the vast range of careers on offer, but also different routes to gaining the right skills and achieving long-term success.

David Willetts is minister of state for universities and science