Young people deserve more STEM careers investment

Jul 15, 2021

Young people deserve more STEM careers investment

By: Beatrice Barleon, Head of Public Affairs & Policy, EngineeringUK 

There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge effect on the education and broader learning of young people across all the nations of the UK. Not only have young people missed out on learning, they’ve also been caught up in the chaos around exams and what this means for their future. In response, the government has made several announcements around catch-up funding, tutoring programmes and how they will measure student progress and achievements.  

Looking beyond the pandemic, there has also been a broader discussion about the future of education and skills in this country post-Brexit with the government focusing, probably quite rightly, on the importance of further education as a way of improving the population’s skills levels and productivity.   

However, one element of the education landscape that seems to have been paid rather little attention throughout this upheaval is careers provision in schools and colleges. This includes how the pandemic has impacted on young people’s access to information, advice and guidance about future careers and job opportunities, as well as work experience and access to inspirational activities such as the Big Bang, which we run, and the many other quality activities featured on Neon.  

One of the things we’re acutely aware of at EngineeringUK is the importance of careers provision in improving the overall knowledge of engineering and what careers it offers, which in turn is key to attracting more, and a more diverse group of, young people into engineering careers.  

Our Engineering Brand Monitor clearly shows that young people who know more about what engineers do are more likely to perceive the profession in a positive way and to consider a career in engineering. And this is why in July 2020, we undertook a survey of young people to better understand the impact the pandemic has had on how they feel about the future and the opportunities available to them, as well as their experience of being able to access careers provision since the start of the pandemic 

The survey highlighted that young people are worried about the future and brought to light that while they have sought out careers advice since the start of the pandemic, this has predominantly come in the form of searching for information online or speaking to parents, with less than a quarter having taken part in any formal careers education during lockdown, and even fewer in STEM-related activities. 

Keeping in mind how important access to good STEM-focused careers provision is for the engineering sector’s ability to attract young people from a wide range of backgrounds into its fold, this was clearly a concerning finding. This is why we wanted to understand more about what is happening in schools and colleges and what are the barriers to schools and colleges delivering STEM careers information, advice and guidance to all young people as a result of the pandemic and beyond.  

Securing the future: STEM careers provision in schools and colleges in England, a joint report by EngineeringUK and 7 other STEM and careers organisations, found that the pandemic has meant opportunities to organise in-person visits and experiences had become a real challenge (91% and 86% of respondents to our survey said so). A further 76% told us that it had become ‘more difficult to engage with employers’ and many told us that the digital divide was a huge concern (49% said that students not being able to access online or virtual careers provision due to lack of technology or internet at home was a barrier).  

Looking at the longer-term issues, our research found that careers leaders and teachers lack the time needed to deliver careers provision in schools and that funding at school level is preventing them from properly embedding STEM careers into their plans. 

Despite all the evidence that young people’s access to advice and guidance about their future has been disrupted alongside teaching, little has been done on the government side to ensure that careers provision in schools and colleges continues to be a priority during these times. In fact, the Careers Strategy from 2017 has come to an end without a review or a new strategy on the horizon. And while the Skills for Jobs White Paper outlines some detail about the plans for careers provision in schools going forward, the White Paper and the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which follows on from that, makes no further commitment to review the careers strategy in light of the changed environment and increased need for careers guidance for young people in a time of great uncertainty. Neither is there any commitment to provide additional funding for careers provision in schools and colleges, unlike, it must be said, for the National Careers Service, which is aimed at adults.  

But, it seems, that we at EngineeringUK and our partners on our latest report about STEM careers provision in schools and colleges in England are not the only ones making some noise about the need to think about careers provision again, particularly in light of the government’s ambitions around Net Zero and the UK becoming a science and engineering superpower.  
In fact, a number of Peers have taken it upon themselves to raise the importance of careers information, advice and guidance in the debates on the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill. In addition, there is also a private members bill focused on careers education in schools which is scheduled to have its second reading in September. And finally, the report by the Green Jobs Taskforce also highlights the importance of careers advice and guidance in the context of a move towards a Net Zero economy.   

The Covid-19 pandemic has put into sharp focus the need to guide young people and provide them with insights about the opportunities available to them at a time when they feel that their future has become much more difficult.  

This is one of the reasons why we are working closely with partners and stakeholders in Parliament and beyond to ensure that the importance of good careers provision and more specifically STEM and engineering focused careers activities is understood by policy makers and beyond and supported politically as well as financially 

Not only do young people deserve that support, many sectors including the engineering sector, need more young people to choose engineering as their career in order to ensure they meet current and future workforce needs 

At EngineeringUK we believe that this political and financial support should come in the form of a new careers strategy and more funding for careers provision, including more STEM focused provision, in schools, and we hope that the government will now take note and act 

Useful links: 
Securing the future: STEM careers provision in schools and colleges in England 
Young people and Covid-19: How the pandemic has affected careers experiences and aspirations 
Our careers, our future: STEM careers provision and young people 
Engineering Brand Monitor 

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