The UK STEAM skills gap is well documented but arguably the manufacturing industry is failing to take meaningful steps towards helping to solve this crisis, argues Matthew Bell – global strategic partnerships manager, Autodesk Education.
A recent OECD report has revealed that the UK has the worst youth skills gap in the Western world.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) also reported earlier this month that a lack of high quality apprenticeships is exacerbating numeracy and literacy problems, creating an unskilled workforce.
It’s clear that there is a serious skills gap that needs to be filled; without immediate action, future generations will fail to deliver the innovation for which the UK has become known.
While many people are familiar with the idea of ‘take your child to work day’, this is not a concept that has been applied in earnest to the manufacturing industry.
This is surprising as many would argue that the industry needs to review its image to project itself in a more attractive way to engage the next generation.
While there are arguably more health and safety issues to address for this type of activity for manufacturing businesses, there’s no reason why organisations should miss out on the opportunity to inspire young people to pursue a career in this field.
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At our Autodesk office in Farnborough we recently hosted our biggest ever ‘Kids at Autodesk Day’ which was attended by 60 children.
Through a range of exciting activities ranging from tower building and rocket launching, to robotics and 3D modelling, sculpting and 3D printing, it was demonstrated to the attending children just how compelling a career in the STEAM (science; technology; engineering; arts, and mathematics) subjects can be.
Partners including F1 in Schools and VEX robotics ran activities throughout the day which really brought STEAM skills to life.
In addition to helping children understand what their parents do and inspiring them to pursue STEAM subjects, there are numerous other benefits to opening up the workplace to children.
One huge benefit of using partner companies for these events is that parents and students learn of the existence of inspiring programmes like VEX and F1 in Schools and the engaging way that they present STEAM opportunities.
This is likely to inspire them to lobby for schools to participate in similar programmes, giving children a more exciting experience of learning STEAM subjects and boosting the uptake of these subjects to help fill the skills gap further down the line.
In particular, allowing children to get involved in the creative process is hugely beneficial in helping them understand how their STEAM skills could be applied and how rewarding a career in manufacturing could be.
In addition, manufacturing on a smaller scale, such as 3D printing, is a great way to get children excited in the field and give them hands-on experience.
In order to solve the STEAM skills gap, it’s essential that children are exposed to these fields as early as possible. Young people grow up surrounded by technology and are born as digital natives, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they will gravitate towards STEAM subjects.
While schools have a huge role to play, businesses should also take responsibility for helping young people become more familiar with the opportunities that STEAM careers have to offer.
The manufacturing industry needs to empower young people with support, experience and access to cloud-based software tools to help shape the future of making things.
If bringing kids to your business really isn’t feasible, why not go to them? Some businesses are already partnering with local schools to help the future of making things come alive in their own school environment.
This could be achieved by running workshops that allow students to get hands-on experience with the right tools and technologies. Either way, this collaboration needs to happen if we are to solve the STEAM skills shortage.
At the end of Kids at Autodesk Day, when asked what they wanted to be when they grow up, one child answered “a physicist” and another answered “a car designer!”
The manufacturing industry needs to inspire more children to engage with STEAM subjects in this way to ensure that these children are the majority, rather than the minority.