Getting students interested in and excited about STEM subjects is imperative in today’s modern climate. The demand for a highly-skilled workforce is ever-increasing, but the reality is that too few graduates are entering into science, maths and engineering careers. In fact, research from 2018 showed that the skills shortage is costing the sector an estimated £1.5 billion a year. So, what can be done to bridge the gap?
To truly inspire a young generation, we need to look beyond the textbooks and use real life examples to demonstrate their capabilities and prove that they can make a difference. After all, STEM is everywhere - you just have to look close enough.
Inez Cornell at Radleys, global leaders in innovative chemistry equipment, shares her thoughts on how to nail down those real world STEM examples and help students to thrive.
Ask the local community
There’s nothing that will make STEM seem more relatable than looking out at what’s right on your doorstep. Local businesses and organisations may be willing to engage with students, potentially offering internships or placements. This will help introduce them to STEM scenarios in a working environment, and potentially nurture long-term relationships.
Don’t limit your imagination to your immediate surroundings - after all, the world is your oyster. Why not try to solve a city’s design needs? What transportation issues is San Francisco facing? How can you help the environment in Cairo, or overcrowding in Mexico City? All around the globe there are fascinating and intriguing problems that can be solved by engineering thinking, so get out a map and start thinking!
Make it empathetic
Students need to have a sense of doing something worthwhile. Air pollution, poverty, water shortages; all of these are emotive issues that will make youngsters feel something and relate to it. Most importantly, it has to be real. There’s no point designing a mission to Mars - exciting it may be, but relatable it’s not. No empathetic connection will be made, and that’s what’s going to tie people to a career in STEM.
Real world problems aren’t straightforward, so you can’t expect the solution to be. Now is the perfect time to really think outside the box and utilise that all-important critical thinking. Make sure students know that there are no right or wrong answers, and encourage them to come up with several different approaches to the problem - the more ‘out there’, the better!
Look to the future
Over the next few decades, we’re very likely to see the world change in a way that will require more and more STEM skills from our species, so it’s important that the next generation look to the future. What scenarios are likely to happen that will call for some of these skills? Climate change and overpopulation are two huge issues that will impact our world, so why not challenge students to come up with unique ways in which we could help save the planet?
Don’t just stop at the environment - think about potential business ventures too, and the transferable skills required to make them a success. Budding entrepreneurs are more likely to engage if they can see their own future within the problem.
Make use of online resources
We’re lucky to live in a time where we have access to a wealth of resources at the click of a button. If you’re in need of inspiration, a simple Google search will bring up a whole load of real world problems for you to get your teeth stuck into. Take a look at mobile apps, too - there are hundreds available to download, designed specifically to make STEM fun.
When it comes to nurturing the STEM workforce of tomorrow, we need to take a hands-on, minds-on approach. Flex their critical thinking through real world examples, and watch the doors open - with more and more graduates stepping through them.