Early education is key to encouraging young people into STEM roles

By Lesley Franklin.

It’s widely acknowledged that we are facing a major skills shortage in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In fact, according to the STEM Skills Indicator, 89% of UK businesses in STEM industries are struggling to hire staff with the required skills. So how do we bridge this skills gap?

Start early

Waiting until university level to find a niche in STEM is too late and these industries are paying for it. According to STEM Learning, the skills shortage is costing the UK around £1.5 billion a year in recruitment and additional training costs.

At George Heriot’s, we believe early education holds the answer. In any learning, it is important that pupils have the opportunity to be curious, creative and passionate about something. This is more important than ever when it comes to STEM, where enthusiasm for these subjects must be explored from an early age. Otherwise, how are our young people to understand what a career in STEM entails and what the opportunities are for them?

Adapt teaching methods

It is important that this approach is nurtured throughout their school careers, from nursery age and upwards, and is never lost. Therefore, in addition to teaching the theory behind these subjects, including how to hypothesise, interrogate data or analyse results, we have to offer teaching that is exciting and interesting. This can include practical experiments and experiences, as well as using real life examples that the pupils can relate to. It is important that pupils can link their learning to the world outside of the classroom in order to feel fully engaged in a subject.  

We already make this happen at George Heriot’s through a progressive programme that includes all ages from nursery through to senior school.

Partner with industry

How can we excite, enthuse and entice our young people to make a career in STEM more appealing? Within schools, there is only so much we can do and that’s where the industry can play its part. In order to protect the future of STEM industries, businesses in the sector must get involved.

Whether that involves STEM industry professionals visiting schools to talk about their role and experience, helping to conduct experiments within a class or businesses hosting trips to their workplaces, it gives young people the chance to see first-hand what a career in this sector can offer them. What is required is great partnership, in resources or time, between industry and education. It’s all about exciting and intriguing young people – giving them a further window into why a career in STEM could be for them.

With initiatives such as our STEM programme and by schools and businesses working together to ensure our young people are exposed to, and become interested in, STEM careers from an early age, I am confident that together we can address this ever-increasing skills gap.

Lesley Franklin is Principal of George Heriot’s School.