Investing in Scottish talent needs outreach and industry partnership to succeed

TechFest MD Sarah Chew

by Sarah Chew, TechFest Managing Director

FOR THE past decade, there has been a huge emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) subjects being a pathway to employability. While we at TechFest are avid supporters of getting young people excited about STEM in school, we have seen first-hand that it works best when we have a multi-dimensional approach in collaboration with industry.

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STEM disciplines are a core factor in technology development, economic growth and global progression and it is encouraging to see the uptake of computer science, Artificial Intelligence and engineering courses on the rise. However, the way we present STEM to school pupils needs to be handled with care to ensure we are preparing students not only for their higher education journey but also for careers thereafter in these competitive industries.

Latest statistics from UCAS present a positive outlook on the future of STEM, as the number of UK 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds accepted into full-time undergraduate STEM courses increased by 79% – from 7,265 in 2010 to 13,040 in 2020. This suggests that young people are benefiting from increased support in these subjects, with potential barriers to access based on gender, ethnic group or socio-economic group gradually being eroded. However, to have the biggest impact substantial employment links are needed to sustain this positive trend.

The necessity for more opportunities and better industry involvement in STEM promotion is also highlighted in a further study (based on 5000 18 – 24-year-olds), which found that young people are facing real barriers to getting jobs. More than two in five (43%) do not believe that their education has equipped them with the skills they need to get the job they want. Two thirds (64%) of young people say that it is not easy to get a good job these days, and nearly a third (29%) say they have struggled to get interviews. One in five (19%) say there simply aren’t the jobs available in their local area.

These shortcomings must be addressed appropriately in order to ensure we support the next generation of Scottish talent. There must be an emphasis on promoting more practical activities that engage, challenge, inform and inspire the youth in Scotland and more opportunities for work experiences provided by businesses. By ensuring more effective educational outreach and practical engagement, we can both contribute towards improving youth employability and provide them with the best chances to realise their full potential as engineers, scientists and innovators.

An excellent example of this type of effective outreach is TechFest’s Blueprint Challenge in collaboration with Bluewater, a specialist private equity firm focused on global energy. The programme has been developed to inspire young people to think about future energy and how this can be integral to a better environment and social agendas. 

The competition puts into practice students’ ideas on how to create a high street that allows society to thrive while celebrating the natural world at the same time. Pupils are asked to take into consideration ‘’modern problems’’ surrounding architecture, economic stability, power generation and consumption, and how they can bring energy, technology and nature together to create a high street that meets Net Zero targets and promotes nature and community growth. The goal is a modern and progressive high street that is not simply about retail.

Students receive comprehensive support including a series of online webinars with industry professionals to help them along the project cycle before showcasing their projects to a panel of experts, providing first-hand experience with the skills necessary for the working world.

It is fundamental that public, charity and business sectors embrace this type of collaborative approach to create a STEM environment where young people across Scotland can thrive and have all the resources to succeed. Being exposed to a range of representation from potential employers, public figures or other STEM speakers, would help build a realistic and practical image of science which addresses current societal challenges in an open conversation and provides appropriate solutions for the next generation of Scottish talent. 

It is in everyone’s interest to invest in the future by creating a divergent and thriving STEM community prepared to face the issues of today as well as the challenges of tomorrow. We need definitive action to create equal opportunities across all fields to promote STEM and safeguard the progression of the incredible field work done throughout the UK with an innovative youth-focused approach.

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