Addressing the STEM skills shortage

Matt Robinson

27 March 2019

As highlighted in “Five essential EdTech trends for 2019” the UK is currently facing a huge STEM skills shortage, which is costing businesses on average £1.5 billion per year. The problem is not just isolated to the UK either.

Emerson, a St. Louis-based manufacturer, reports that in the US manufacturing industry alone there will be 3.5 million STEM jobs in the US by 2025, of which more than 2 million will remain unfilled due to a lack of skilled labour.

These statistics not only present huge economic challenges but highlight fundamental concerns about the future of industry around the globe. If we don’t invest in developing individuals to fill science, technology, engineering and mathematical roles, the pace of change will inevitable slow and hinder progress across the board. 

STEM learning is essential 
In the UK, the government has already declared addressing the skills gap as a priority, but the scale of the problem, is not something that can be addressed overnight. Investment in new learning initiatives in schools and colleges, which champion STEM learning are essential, but for those to become a reality, teachers need to be equipped with the tools and resources required to bring these programs to life.   

Yet despite the challenges, many barriers remain. Putting tightening budgets and reluctant budget holders – who are skeptical about making technology investments – to one side, there is a huge amount of dissatisfaction building around the use and management of EdTech in the classroom. 

Bett’s Annual Innovation Index 
According to the results of Bett’s Annual Innovation Index released to attendees of 2019’s event in March 2019, 63% of respondents claimed their school was reluctant to invest in more educational technology, compared to 46% the previous year.

Elsewhere 54% of respondents said that educational technology offered poor value for money compared to 34% in 2018. Whilst the number of people stating that infrastructure at their institution inhibits adoption of more education technology rose from 48% to 68%.

Whilst these statistics don’t make for positive reading the same study did also highlight that there is generally an acceptance that the range of technology services available to educators is advancing. It is this opportunity we need to seize and quickly. 

Capturing the interest of K12 students 
More needs to be done from an early age to capture the interest of K12 students before they lose interest. In fact, research indicates that girls tend to lose interest more quickly than their male counterparts, especially by the time they reach their mid-teens. Worryingly for 58% this has disappeared entirely by the time they reach university age.

At this year’s UK Bett conference there were a wealth of technologies on show to help capture this interest. Robo Wunderkind was one of the businesses heralded for bringing robotics solutions to the classroom. The digital start-up supported by a Kickstarter campaign, which launched in 2015, claims to offer “a robot anyone can build”. It’s mission to provide educators with an alternative solution to help integrate robotics and coding into their classrooms, is exactly the drive we need, but a new culture needs to be established for its impact to effect change.

Organizations like Robo Wunderkind are not in short supply either. The likes of Pi-Top and SamLabs are also redefining how students can and are engaging with manufacturing and engineering in more creative and innovative ways. But funding remains an issue. As does the willingness to take a bet on these less traditional offerings. 

So, what’s next? 
It seems obvious to say but change is crucial. Schools are continually facing issues with funding. Teachers are still hamstrung by process, rather than possessing an ability to deliver personalized learning initiatives. While students are continually going to demand different approaches to stimulate their learning and development.

These issues can’t and shouldn’t be a barrier to innovation or prolong the STEM-skills shortage. Governments, tech-suppliers and education establishments all need to work together with big business. They not only need to drive greater incentives but adopt new approaches and mindsets to how they approach the issue and the prominence placed on the necessity and specificity of their requirements.