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Closing the skills gap: How STEAM can Inspire the Workforce of the Future

Inspiring young people to take up STEAM subjects is essential for building the workforce of the future and thriving economies worldwide.

While the global drive to be greener, healthier and more resilient continues, so too does the lack of skilled people able to fulfil the ever-growing number of STEM jobs roles[1].

The good news is that interest is increasing within education – more young people than ever before are taking up STEM subjects at University[2]. However, large disparities in participation remain between different social groups: in the UK, only 15% of scientists come from working-class households[3], and in the US only 14% of engineering are women[4].

With the help of Anne-Marie Imafidon, CEO of Stemettes and Trustee at The Institute for the Future of Work, we explore how to encourage more children from all backgrounds to engage with STEAM subjects.

[1] https://luminate.prospects.ac.uk/the-uks-stem-skills-shortage

[2] https://www.allaboutstem.co.uk/2021/02/more-young-people-are-taking-stem-subjects-than-ever-before/

[3] https://theconversation.com/stem-efforts-to-inspire-more-children-could-be-entrenching-educational-inequalities-119948

[4] https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2018/01/09/diversity-in-the-stem-workforce-varies-widely-across-jobs/

Watch Annie-Marie discuss how STEAM can build fairer societies and power future economies.

 

Encouraging an individual creative approach

 Fostering creativity encourages young people to get making and have a sense of agency in how they see STEAM and their learning experiences.

Creating environments and setting tasks that enable young people to explore problem-solving based on their interests helps create exciting connections between their ideas and motivates further learning.

Anne-Marie explains how this can work in practice. “We ran a big data hack for young people… we gave them a big feed from Twitter, and allowed them to use a data tool to be able to analyse information and display data visualisations.” Participants were able to choose any topic of interest and the results were hugely varied, including everything from Build a Bear, Chelsea FC and One Direction.”

Allowing this freedom is an essential part of  inspiring young people, Anne-Marie says: “The creativity part of STEAM has been really key to allowing young people to see how the statistics, tools and STEAM relates to them and the things that they’re interested in.”

Recognising Altruism and Rewarding STEAM Careers

Promoting the wide range of rewarding STEAM career paths helps people from all backgrounds work towards aspirational roles and realise their potential.

It’s clear that young people are ready to take on social responsibility – we see this in the protests, initiatives, and movements that have come to life around the world through their actions.

“A lot of young people want to do good, they want to be able to give back, they want to be able to help others,” Anne-Marie says. “And often, we’ve got a very narrow definition of what helping others looks like… they want to be medics, or doctors so they can help folks.” Careers in STEAM industries present a wealth of opportunities to make a difference in everyday lives beyond healthcare. 

We see this in roles like environmental scientists developing green technologies, civil engineers who build bridges and ethical hackers, who help companies improve their IT security – the list is endless.

Anne-Marie continues: “There are lots of other ways that you can also be helpful. Professor Allison Leary, who is a nurse and mathematician – almost like a modern-day Florence Nightingale – uses mathematics to help improve cancer treatments.

“There’s a lot of altruism, there’s a lot of capacity to be able to do good to solve problems for people and to move things forward that we have in STEAM. Whether it’s the green agenda or sustainability – there are all kinds of different routes for altruism.”

Diversity of role models

Through better representation and more diverse role models, we can help young people see themselves in STEAM industries and work towards building a stronger, fairer society.

There’s no denying diversity is lacking in STEAM.

  • Women make up less than a third of the core STEM workforce in the UK
  • Black and minority ethnic men are 28% less likely to work in STEM than white men
  • 29% of LGBTQ+ people would not consider a career in STEM due to fear of discrimination
  • Disabled people represent only 5% of the engineering workforce[1]

[1] https://www.britishscienceassociation.org/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=d7899dce-22d5-4880-bbcf-669c0c35bda6

Despite diversity and representation being slightly more balanced among younger workers, more needs to be done to increase diversity and visibility of diversity in STEAM.

Role models play an important part in young people’s development. This is especially true when it comes to race and gender.

A study of young adolescents revealed that those with at least one race and gender-matched role model performed better academically, had more achievement-oriented goals, enjoyed achievement-relevant activities more and thought more about their futures[1].

Anne-Marie says: “There are a lot of people in the steam world… they are of different ethnicities… of different genders… different ages.

“It’s really important to show that difference and show that there are different types of people that can be successful in the STEAM world, and also, of course, different types of success.”

[1] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/240645820_Is_There_A_Place_for_Me_Role_Models_and_Academic_Identity_among_White_Students_and_Students_of_Color

Loved this article?

Register for our exclusive STEAM-focussed webinar panel discussion to hear more from Anne-Marie, alongside panellists:

  • Tim Peake British ESA Astronaut
  • Marsha Ivins NASA Astronaut
  • Craig Kemp Global EdTech Consultant
  • Early Years Consultant Alistair Bryce-Clegg
  • Simon Hunt Primary Teacher and Consultant

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