YOU Belong in STEM
11th October 2023
STEM provides many of the driving factors of modern society, and the acquisition and application of STEM skills are increasingly important. Everyone benefits when STEM education and employment settings are welcoming, diverse, and inclusive.
Pursuing an interest in STEM can deliver lifelong benefits. A 2017 London Economics study found that STEM undergraduate degrees generated larger graduate premiums and benefited the UK economy more than non-STEM subjects. STEM roles are also a significant part of the UK labour market, the Labour Force Survey found at the end of 2022, 2.8 million people were employed in professional scientific and technical occupations (with health included) representing approximately 8.5% of a total workforce of 32.7 million. STEM workers are increasingly in demand. According to ONS data there were 125,000 job vacancies in professional scientific and technical activities in a similar time period.
Ensuring a continued flow of STEM talent is therefore of vital importance to the UK economy, though it is universally acknowledged that these opportunities are not equally distributed across society. 2014 research by the Royal Society found that women, people from certain ethnic backgrounds, people with disabilities, those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds and those who declared themselves as being LGBTQ+ were under-represented in STEM education, training and on to employment.
The Science, Innovation and Technology Select Committee is appointed by the House of Commons and ensures that Government policies and decision-making across departments are based on solid scientific evidence and advice. In order to address the nature and extent of under-representation they’ve made the following recommendations:
- Action must be taken that truly moves the dial. The Government, education and research sectors should make improving diversity and inclusion in STEM a central part of its day-to-day activities and future agenda. It’s not just good for business, it is fundamentally about being fair, and doing the right thing. With the aim of making STEM in the UK a beacon of good practice when it comes to addressing under-representation.
- A survey can only ever provide a snapshot, whilst concerted, targeted action would be better informed by a longitudinal study. The forthcoming results must be accompanied by an action plan, and the survey should have the ability to undertake analysis by STEM occupation.
- All children should be able to see themselves in what they learn from an early age and have access to relevant careers advice with diverse role models. The national curriculum should be kept under review and updated where it is appropriate to the context to include more diverse examples, such as female scientists.
- The data on STEM subject uptake and attainment at GCSE and A-level paints a complex picture. There are clear differences between boys and girls, with the latter seemingly less inclined to pursue STEM subjects than the former. The picture within different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds is similarly complex, however, pupils from some backgrounds, such as Black Caribbean, are clearly underrepresented across STEM subjects at both GCSE and A-level.
- Access needs to be provided to the separate study of biology, chemistry and physics at GCSE (the ‘triple science’ option) which is a decisive factor for many pupils in determining whether they study STEM subjects at university and enter the STEM workforce.
- There are clear benefits when children are taught by teachers with qualifications, professional experience, or specialism in those subjects. Those teachers should be offered competitive salaries to address shortages in the sector.
- As an alternative to compulsion the introduction of a requirement for pupils who do not continue with a STEM subject post-16 to take the Advanced Mathematical Support Programme or a Core Science course.
STEM related roles are an important part of the UK labour market, and as is the case in other workplaces, the benefits of improved diversity and inclusion are clear, for employers and employees alike. The path to achieving this is likely to require a concerted, awareness and long-term effort across the entire UK workforce.
STEM is without doubt one of the key skill sectors for UK’s future prosperity. Its good to see investment in education, training and marketing has been successful at changing perceptions, improving inclusivity and slowly increasing numbers entering the STEM sectors. Now we have improvement and traction the UK needs to continue to promote and accelerate the momentum to keep UK PLC competitive.