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STEM – a call to action

12 June 2018

It’s too easy to bemoan the lack of skills in the current industrial market place. I don’t mean that we should all pipe down and accept the cost of the UK not producing enough STEM graduates, quite the contrary. We must pipe up, and champion the cause, because we’re actually the people who can do something about it, says Dr. Susan Scurlock, CEO, Primary Engineer

Despite best of intentions (and progress) from Government and industry schemes, it is clear to me from my time working on the front line of STEM education in the UK, that the people who can affect change are those who don’t just talk about the issues, but those who take action.

I founded Primary Engineer from my back bedroom. That ‘digital start-up cliché’ says something about how society is changing in the digital age, and it’s clear that industry is currently on the precipice of changes that will further amplify that pace of change. Most readers of Controls Drives & Automation will be very familiar with the so-called 4th Industrial Revolution. Most will see, first hand, that employment in industry is different now to a generation ago. It uses different (often more digital) skills and requires a flexibility to continue to learn new things.

Similarly, employment in industry will be very different again a generation from now and no curriculum can hope to teach the skills of the future, since they are changing so quickly. STEM subjects are important because they teach the discipline of problem solving and the approaches to learning that allow engineers of tomorrow to adapt to the future. STEM skills are a ticket to rewarding employment in a more automated future. But I don’t need to tell you that!

Readers will also be acutely aware of the lack of STEM graduates entering the workplace. The resulting cost to UK industry in unfilled job posts, inflated wages and slower growth are also well understood. So how do we make a difference?

My own story, from that back-bedroom to running an organisation that now employs 16 staff across two permanent offices and is directly responsible for putting some 44,000 children, 2222 teachers and 829 engineers through programmes in 2017 that enable STEM by stealth learning for children, shows that it’s perfectly possible for people to make a difference.

Engineers can help close the gap between education and industry

I’m not suggesting that engineers and teachers quit the day job and devote their lives to propagating STEM education programmes (though we are always looking for talented people to join our growing teams). But I advocate, in the strongest terms, for every engineer to get on the front foot and get involved directly at a local level. Primary Engineer has an array of different programmes and schemes that we need engineers to continue to get involved in. We need engineers to help us support  teachers, to help us to inspire them, and the kids they teach. Engineers can help close the gap between education and industry, because children can’t aspire to careers that they have no visibility of. It’s incredibly easy to get involved, just click through to Primary Engineer's sign up page and register with us. I promise it will make a difference.

To learn more about the difference that Primary Engineer programmes are making, click through to our news page. And to hear why many UK industrial companies are encouraging their employees to join our programmes to inspire their own engineers, read this wonderful endorsement from Paul Sheerin, Chief Executive of Scottish Engineering.  

“Scottish Engineering count ourselves lucky to be associated with this programme, and it is well supported by our member companies for a number of key reasons. The first and most important is that those that really want to make a difference through their actions in STEM activities recognise that the most successful interventions are repeatable and repeated.  We cannot expect to combat a lack of prominent profile or bias against STEM careers by a scattergun, intermittent approach, and Primary Engineer meets that need. At a school taking part, a pupil will take part in the programme as part of their class every year they are there, delivering that drum beat of STEM presence essential to success. 

The second reason is what I see is that in general every Manufacturing and Engineering company wants to help fill the STEM pipeline, but sometimes the day job wipes the time needed to organise their involvement, despite good intentions.  Primary Engineer does the heavy lifting and delivers a programme where all they need to do is allow their engineer to turn up, take part and be involved in a structured, measured, well organised event.  My final reason is very simple:  its fun.  Actually, that’s an understatement – I challenge anyone to take part in Primary Engineer and not find themselves grinning from ear to ear.  And that fun is the reason we hear Engineers say that they leave a Primary Engineer event with more energy than they arrived with, having had fun working with enthusiastic pupils on our favourite subject:  Engineering.”

One of our popular awards programme asks children, “If You Were an Engineer, What Would You Do?”. In turn, it seems appropriate, in the case of STEM, for us to say to industry, “You’re an Engineer, What Are you Doing?” For our part, we won’t rest until STEM programmes are in every school in the UK – and beyond!

Key Points

  • Employment in industry will be very different a generation from now; no curriculum can hope to teach the skills of the future
  • Primary Engineer has an array of different programmes and schemes that it needs engineers to get involved in
  • Programmes are available that simply require an engineer to simply turn up and take part in a structured, well organised event

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