If the engineering skills shortage is to be tackled to avoid a future catastrophe for the UK engineering industry, organisations within industry and educational establishments must act now and play their part, big or small.
RS Components has long been committed to the cause of raising awareness of STEM subjects to increase uptake among schoolchildren and students and inspire tomorrow’s engineers. Here, James Howarth, Head of Education Strategy at RS, and Laura Giddings, RS STEM Education Manager, answer some key questions around the reasons behind the firm’s involvement in this mission, the impact they believe it has had and what the future may hold for the company’s support of this important quest.
Why is it important to raise awareness of STEM among school children?
We are in the midst of a global skills crisis: according to a recent report published by Dell Technologies, 85 per cent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet. Furthermore, it has been estimated by EngineeringUK that by the year 2024, the UK will need 186,000 skilled engineers annually to keep up. We must urgently address this major skills shortage and lack of STEM subjects uptake to ensure there is a pipeline of talent to safeguard our future infrastructure – particularly with the exponential growth in a variety of industries that rely on engineering technology.
For too long, young people have been asked the same question “What do you want to be?”
We need to change the narrative and question for young people, and ask “What do you want to do?” Children are influenced by ideas and roles presented to them by their peers, parents and teachers, so more needs to be done to change the perception of STEM careers and what they involve. According to the IET, just 26 per cent of females are looking to pursue a career in STEM compared to 43 per cent of boys, which is reflected in industry, with much lower numbers of females currently working in STEM related roles. The IET’s campaign #SmashStereoTypesToBits is a great example of an inspiring campaign helping to address this issue.
Why did RS decide to get involved with raising awareness of STEM?
We are a global technology business that supports engineers all over the world with products and services. However, both here in the UK and globally we are seeing a shortage of engineers with the skills to meet the changing demands in industry-driven by changes in technology and innovation, the onset of Industry 4.0, IIOT, AI and robotics which our existing workforce is slow to adapt and the current education system faces challenges in providing the next generation with the skills they need.
So, there is a need both to upskill our existing workforce and prepare the engineers of the future to ensure there is a pipeline of talent both for our business and the wider industry in order to secure our future infrastructure.
Innovation cannot progress without the skills to drive it forward, and RS has always been forward-thinking and an ambassador for innovation.
What are the key elements RS believes have been instrumental/most impactful in this commitment? Has there been a tangible impact?
Our Impact Report, released in 2019, highlighted the impact of our STEM education strategy, which was launched in December 2017 to raise awareness and demonstrate the company’s commitment to inspiring the next generation of engineers. The STEM Education Impact Report 2018 outlines tangible, measurable successes. These include the fact that 35,000 under 18s boarded the RS Titan II truck in 2018, engaging with the many technologies showcased on the truck including 3D printing, virtual and augmented reality, robotics and Raspberry Pi.
Additionally, 47,000 young people engaged with RS and its educational partners throughout 2018 (during the Government’s Year of Engineering initiative), both through events involving Titan II, and other partner projects including the Rube Goldberg machine build with Kids Invent Stuff, a #GirlsWithDrills interactive workshop and RS’ support of Ambionics – a business creating customisable limbs for toddlers and young children.
Another key element that has been instrumental in the development of the STEM Education programme is creativity. Our STEM Ambassadors are very keen to learn about new technologies and develop new skills, and this enables them to deliver various workshops for all ages to suit a multitude of interests, be that coding, building laptops, vac-forming, using power tools or introducing the engineering design process.
We have seen a rise in requests for STEM workshops not only in the UK but from our colleagues overseas.
How will RS continue its work in supporting this cause – what does the future hold?
We have made a significant investment so far in supporting STEM and this will continue. The skills shortage is not something that can be fixed overnight and therefore our sustained approach to raising awareness of STEM subjects and the exciting opportunities within engineering will be maintained. We are also committed to sharing best practice: we already share best practice of our STEM and education activities with colleagues in various regions, including the Americas and APAC, and we will soon be implementing a similar RS STEM Education programme in Denmark, Sweden and Norway.
STEM skills play to a global mission to drive change. They broaden horizons, empower the disadvantaged and diversify life choices of everyone. Young people have yet to see the bigger picture and impact these skills could have on the world.
That’s why RS launched the first set of lesson plans aligned to the national curriculum, with publication of our second set being imminent.
Imagine-X is a collaborative project, in which we work with teachers, inventors, designers and real-world engineers to bring STEM careers to life. Imagine-X links dynamic, exciting STEM subjects to real people who have used the same skills to make the world a better place. Teachers are able to access these free curriculum-aligned resources online (designed for pupils aged 7 – 14) via our STEM Hub. Imagine-X has the main aim of helping pupils realise the far-reaching potential of STEM and their imaginations.
We will continue to support events and exhibitions, and continue to host our own annual STEMFEST at our head office in Corby. Our inaugural event in 2019 saw 600 students from local primary and secondary schools attending, along with 800 guests on our public day. 2020 promises to be even bigger and better.