The Royal Academy of Engineering has just released a report stating that whilst engineers underpin the UK economy, they are in short supply. Worryingly, this appears to be a common theme in the United States too. Schools, these days it seems, are simply not producing enough STEM graduates.
How can we address this issue?
As plenty of children are glued to TV and video games, their interest in science, mathematics and engineering is waning. The UK is only producing around 23,000 graduate engineers a year .. which doesn't come close to the amount actually needed. Countries like China and India are producing between 8 and 20 times more graduate engineers than the UK, every year.
Rick Stephens, Vice President of Human resources at Boeing, recently spoke at the STEM Summit 2012. He described a situation where "only 32 percent of U.S. and private school students..are deemed proficient in mathematics."
The Royal Acadamy's report found that the demand for STEM skills will exceed demand in the forseeable future. Whilst the lack of women engineers is well known, there is also evidence to suggest that there is a significant under representation of people from lower socio-economic backgrounds too. It would seem that these specific groups aren't interested in applying for STEM degrees.
“Around 1.25 million science, engineering and technology professionals and technicians are needed by 2020, including a high proportion of engineers, to support the UK’s economic recovery.”
How can we encourage our children to step away from the games console and take an interest in how things work and why? Surely, capturing their imagination and enthusiasm at an early age is essential but so is nurturing that initial spark throughout their education.
"I have travelled around in business and seen how other nations organise themselves and tilt policy in favour of their inudstrial base. At the highest level, an industrial strategy, in my view, is about giving the right signals to society that industrial activity is very impotant" Sir John Parker, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering - The Daily Telegraph, 29th July 2012.
A sparsely populated and ageing pool of STEM professionals is forcing employers to look abroad for new candidates. "Engineering firms are crying out for engineers. They can't get the people they need. Although they have been very, very vocal about the subject it has not translated into public policy yet." Professor Matthew Harrison, Royal Academy of Engineering.
So, what do you think needs to be done to encourage students to look at STEM in a new light and continue their learning through to rewarding and fulfilling careers?