The knowledge economy is sparking a new approach to STEM education

Companies in all industries are looking for innovators, not just inventors. With the rise of  new and exciting technology companies, many of which are created by younger people who have just left – or in some cases are still in – school, it’s only a matter of time until the next Twitter or Snapchat is invented.

However, much attention is focused on the innovation deficit in the UK and the lack of proficiency in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

This deficit is high on the government agenda both in terms of evoking more interest in the subjects as well as making sure teachers are well placed to inspire those they teach. Education, and particularly STEM education, is the fundamental sustainability issue of our time and an important pillar of any successful economy which requires a highly educated and STEM-literate population.

> See also: Every kind of business needs STEM at its core to survive

The UK is taking steps to address this challenge and the new GCSE in computer programming and cyber security, launched last month, is certainly a step in the right direction. However, in order to excel in STEM subjects, hands-on project and design-based learning approaches are necessary as they are more consistent with the cognitive processes and learning styles we attribute to the millennial generation and younger.

These approaches spark creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. They 'pull' kids into STEM disciplines by generating interest and confidence, rather than 'pushing' them to do better in maths and science.

To encourage more and better skilled pupils and graduates to STEM careers, it is not just government and the education sector that will play a big part; the wider industry that requires STEM skills has a major role to play as well.

Communicating opportunities and benefits of a STEM career

Companies must communicate the opportunities and benefits of working in IT and technology-related fields to attract more interest. As those who work in IT know, technology is a fast-paced and constantly changing sector and one in which innovative and entrepreneurial individuals thrive. Recent research for the Complete University Guide also indicated that graduate sala ries wi thin IT have increased compared to an overall decline.

This is an obvious incentive to move into this sector, as well as the sheer number of jobs available: the European Commission estimates that Europe might face a shortage of up to 900,000 ICT professionals by 2020. However, with many still lacking the skills and training required, what else can be done to boost the number of STEM learners?

We have already started to see some businesses take the initiative by encouraging and supporting school-age pupils to consider STEM careers. For example, we are working closely with the charity, Teach First. As one of the charity’s primary focuses is on encouraging young people to take an interest in STEM subjects, a number of our senior executives are volunteering some of their time in the classroom to support the charity’s emphasis on STEM subjects.

This early stage, collaborative approach to entry-level IT and business training, is fairly unique across all industries at the moment. However, we expect to see greater demand for this, as more and more businesses start to realise the benefits of addressing technical skills’ shortages directly. In particular, having this control means companies can tailor the training programmes with their selected partner to ensure the candidates are better prepared for their specific roles.

> See also: Businesses must invest in students to solve the STEM software skills gap

In addition, the industry should also focus on promoting more prominent women to encourage more female graduates into STEM careers. Although women now make up 46% of the UK’s work force, only 15.5 per cent of the STEM workforce is female. More can be done to fill this gap and having strong role models will help with this.

Competing in an era of digital business

We no longer live in an Industrial Economy – we are firmly implanted in the Knowledge Economy, or what some call the era of digital business, in which we compete on code. New technologies are revolutionising the future of work created by global and virtual environments made up of millennial workers and consumers.

Certain technical skills may not stay relevant forever, but encouraging life-long learning is enduring. In order to  succeed in training the STEM workers of the future, schools, universities and organisations must emphasise the process of 'doing', encourage collaboration and interdisciplinary problem-solving, and support risk taking – as it is these qualities combined with STEM skills that will be at the core of the change-makers of tomorrow.

Sourced from Phil Dunmore, ‎Head of Consulting UK at Cognizant

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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