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STEM... a roadmap to success!

Conference Report: 28 September 2016


UK employers are increasingly struggling to find quality candidates for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) roles. Too few students are pursuing STEM subjects, and there is a huge gender divide, with women and girls actively avoiding STEM opportunities.

enei’s thought leadership conference on 28 September 2016 delivered a comprehensive overview of the issues faced by schools and employers around STEM:

  • Explaining the issues causing the shortage of quality candidates for STEM roles
  • Finding out how best to connect schools and businesses
  • Learning from leading global and national organisations about the steps they have taken to increase the STEM talent pool
  • Providing delegates with practical tools and advice to take away

The conference took delegates on a journey through the many and varied applications of STEM in the workplace, beginning with the work of the Department for International Development, investigating the importance of STEM across business sectors and education, and following a trip on HS2 ending at the South Pole with the work of the British Antarctic Survey.

Professor Charlotte Watts, Chief Scientific Advisor, Department for International Development

Professor Charlotte WattsCharlotte opened the conference with a keynote speech on how the Department for International Development needs STEM skills in its global operations, highlighting how the Department created an algorithm which enabled them to prioritise relief operations using Twitter posts following the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. Charlotte told delegates that she was a proud mathematician, but had been told throughout her education that women couldn’t do maths; even after she was awarded her PhD!

For Charlotte, the key priorities for reducing the STEM skills shortage in the UK are to excite the next generation of girls and children with the possibilities that a STEM career can bring, and to reduce the number of women currently in STEM roles who are leaving the pipeline. Finally, Charlotte called for women at the top in STEM careers to be more proactive in being visible role models to show that it is possible for women to succeed in STEM.

Arancha Sanchez, CIO, Santander

Arancha SanchezSetting the scene, Arancha spoke about how technology matters in Santander and the wider economy. Telling delegates that technology is leading a golden age, Arancha highlighted the disruptive organisations who are leading the way – how Spotify changed the way we consume music and how a book store (Amazon) now delivers groceries! Arancha also made it clear to delegates that the world is still in the early stages of the digital revolution. Despite this the UK’s digital economy is a huge success story, generating a higher % of GDP than any other EU country.

Arancha continued with the impact this is having on employment and the workplace; monolithic structures are collapsing. The priorities for business now are:

1. Technology matters – Technology is no longer an enabler for business functions, but is the value proposition itself.

2. Information technology – Organisations need to focus on using the information their technology captures and exploit that data.

3.  New professions – New roles and skill sets are being created and Arancha was clear on the need to effectively integrate and manage this change.

Noting the increasing practice of Agile Working, Arancha commented on the importance of organisations making investment in technology business as usual. She pointed out how for many employees the technology that they have at home or in their pocket is better than that provided by their employer and that employees now demand that technology makes their lives easier in the same way customers do.

Finishing, Arancha stressed the responsibility of leaders to embrace diversity to make organisations attractive places to work, as otherwise the talent and skills we need will not come to us.

Paul Jackson, Chief Executive, Engineering UK

Paul JacksonDelivering the context behind why so few students are pursuing STEM subjects in education, Paul began by explaining that there was no geographical reason why the UK shouldn’t have a more diverse STEM workforce. Paul continued that a key priority for the Government is to increase the productivity of the UK workforce and that STEM is a huge driver of productivity. There is a growing shortage of people with engineering skills in the UK, with 182,000 people needed each year but only half that amount entering the workforce each year. For Paul, the key priorities are reskilling people later in life who wish to enter the STEM workforce, retaining existing STEM workers and attracting a more diverse workforce into STEM careers.

Paul highlighted the success of the Big Bang Fair, a series of events that engage young people in STEM and show them what careers are possible with STEM qualifications. The Big Bang Fair programme has increased the number of children who believe a STEM career is desirable from 27% to 43%, and the number who know what engineers do from 11% to 30%. The Big Bang Fair programme works because it engages the full spectrum of STEM, with collaboration between employers and the education system. It has also changed the language it uses to better engage with young people, noting a dramatic increase in web traffic when the wording “Case Studies” was changed to “Real Jobs”.

Fran Dainty, Science CPD Lead, STEM Learning

Fran DaintyFran introduced delegates to the work of STEM Learning, showcasing the UK wide approach that is dovetailed with the work of the National STEM Learning Centre in York. Fran explained how the education landscape has seen huge and fast-paced changes in recent years, with curriculum reforms across all age groups contributing to the high numbers of newly qualified STEM teachers leaving the profession after five years. STEM Learning has supported STEM teachers by giving them a forum in which to share ideas, providing secondment opportunities in business for STEM teachers to increase student awareness and knowledge of STEM careers and recruited a number of STEM ambassadors from business to go into schools, increasing student’s knowledge of paths into STEM.

Professor Becky Parker, Director, Institute for Research in Schools

Professor Becky ParkerIn this extremely passionate and energetic presentation, Professor Becky Parker, Director of the Institute for Research in Schools and Head of Physics at Simon Langton Grammar School spoke about how her approach to teaching STEM, by allowing students to actually be scientists, increased engagement and participation at school level. She implored delegates to value what young people can offer, giving examples of how they often ask the questions that qualified scientists don’t. Becky highlighted the myth developed in schools that because the text books have been written, all science is done, and proved how, using big data and collaboration between schools, students were able to find answers to real problems faced by scientists and demonstrate how STEM skills can be applied in real life situations.

Natalie Cramp, COO, Careers & Enterprise Company

Natalie CrampNatalie focused on the challenges faced in preparing young people for work, highlighting how individual employer programmes aimed at reaching young people and teachers are not coordinated to achieve the greatest possible impact. Natalie spoke about how her organisation supports teachers in building careers and enterprise plans for their schools, focusing on increasing the number of encounters that students had with employers and helping schools connect with local businesses. Natalie also warned that current efforts to tackle poor educational attainment were beginning too late, as students are often already completely disengaged by the time warning flags are raised, increasing their chances of becoming NEET.

Natasha Beeston, Insight Manager, Aimia

Natasha BeestonWhen she was a child, Natasha wanted to be a superhero. Her early career targets were to enter the emergency services, in order to save lives. As she grew older, Natasha realised she could do the same thing through a STEM career, specifically analytics (as DFID did for the Nepal earthquake).

Natasha told delegates how AIMIA, the marketing and loyalty analytics company behind the Nectar card are widening their horizons in the search for talent. When recruiting apprentices and graduates the organisation no longer focuses on maths qualifications and coding skills, looking for wider thinking skills. Natasha also explained AIMIA’s data philanthropy scheme, where the organisation supplies resources, skills and advice to charities. Natasha explained how this helps women in AIMIA develop their career by practicing skills in safe environment without commercial demands.

Ashleigh Baker, Apprentice, & Joe Somers, Graduate, Cobham

Ashleigh Baker & Joe SomersAshleigh and Joe began by speaking about the work that Cobham has done to increase participation in STEM careers, including initiative programmes such as traineeships, apprenticeships, work experience and graduate schemes. They highlighted how Cobham programmes allow you to experience different business units that allow you to do the jobs – helping you to make an advised choice on the career you finally choose. Cobham has also focused on ensuring that women return to the business following maternity leave and are given the support and opportunities needed to be promoted.

As members of the Cobham apprenticeship and graduate schemes respectively Ashleigh and Joe walked delegates through the routes that led them to the work in STEM at Cobham and why they made the decisions they made on the way. Identifying the reasons behind the huge gap between the numbers of men and women in STEM careers, Ashleigh and Joe spoke of the need to engage girls earlier, and suggested next steps and improvements to increase that engagement.

Joanne Carr, Education Manager, HS2

Joanne CarrJoanne spoke about the challenges and opportunities faced by the HS2 project, and the wider rail sector. Joanne told delegates that for most rail employees, it is a career they have fallen into; the industry faces an urgent need to change that. She highlighted how the HS2 project was a key opportunity to close the UK stem skills gap, and not just engineering skills, describing how HS2 needed to recruit 100% of the UK’s practicing archaeologists.

HS2 is focussing recruitment on apprenticeships, worklessness and education. Their education programme aims to stimulate interest in STEM, inspire new people to join STEM careers and the rail industry, support careers guidance and signpost career pathways.

HS2 is working to build relationships with schools along the HS2 path, especially those with high proportions of students eligible for free school meals and girls schools. They are focusing on “not just the usual suspects”, working to widen the attraction of STEM subjects and careers to girls. HS2 takes the view that the project belongs to young people, as it is them who will build, use and maintain it. Along with sending HS2 education ambassadors into schools, the organisation has divided job roles into different themes to showcase the diversity of roles on offer in the sector. HS2 is also opening the National College for High Speed Rail to tackle the skills shortage and reskill existing workers.

Fiona Capstick, Business Technology Enablement Leader, EY

Fiona CapstickFiona was an accidental technologist, starting her career as a computer operator. She developed the view that she didn’t want any more accidental technologists, so began tackling the issues of too few young girls educated in IT subjects and not enough women in visible senior positions. Fiona highlighted that there is a lack of media attention on women in stem leadership roles, and spoke about how analytics is replacing old roles.

Speaking about her own early career, Fiona pointed out how technology, and girls coming into technology, is not a choice anymore; you can no longer choose between working with computers or not. Fiona finished by explaining how the Women in Technology forum at EY is influencing women who work in technology and pressuring leaders to help women develop their careers in STEM, bringing together various technology disciplines.

Denise Keating, Chief Executive, enei

Denise KeatingDenise launched enei’s Roadmap for embedding STEM in organisations. Explaining how diversity & inclusion is a journey, Denise pointed out that whenever new legislation is introduced everyone goes back to the first stage of that journey: equality. Applying this to the challenge of increasing participation in STEM, Denise explained how there is currently too much noise around STEM – and too much research – and not enough information about what employers can actually do with those resources. This is why enei has taken a very practical perspective, taking the theory behind embedding D&I in organisations – how do you turn strategy into actions – and applied that theory to embedding STEM. The enei Roadmap explains how to measure success, embed lessons into culture and sustain momentum. The accompanying Route to Resources highlights the resources available for each of the four key stakeholders in increasing the prevalence of STEM skills in the UK: employers, teachers, parents and students.

Beatrix Schlarb-Ridley, Director of Innovation and Impact, British Antarctic Survey

Beatrix Schlarb-RidleyBeatrix explained how the unique work of the British Antarctic Survey created a complex set of requirements for working arrangements, and how Antarctic research depends on a pipeline of talent with STEM skills. BAS has focused on D&I in that pipeline, with Beatrix explaining how far the organisation had come, with women not being allowed on research stations over winter until 1993. Now half of the survey’s directors are women, however Beatrix told delegates that the Survey’s problem is tackling the career attrition rates as women progress to senior grades.

Taking a personal angle, Beatrix explained why STEM matters so much to her, speaking about the difference in opportunity between her mother, who had only 8 years of education during the Second World War, and her daughter, who has two parents with PhDs and constant exposure to STEM initiatives. Before recapping the day, Beatrix told of her heartbreak that there were still subtle STEM barriers in society which were impacting on the STEM career paths for her daughter and other young girls.


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