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Should graduates be ambassadors for STEM subjects?

Engineering students and new graduates are the perfect STEM ambassadors says Maggie Berry, Women in Technology managing director. Want to find out how you can make a difference? Read on…

There’s been a lot of buzz in the media about the lack of skills within the engineering and technology sectors. Take up of STEM subjects at A level and university is low and many commentators have argued that the route of the problem lies with a lack of students becoming gripped by STEM subjects at GCSE age and are reluctant to pursue them through to degree level or further.

With the Government working with businesses on a new IT GCSE and A level curriculum, and companies being called upon to liaise with schools in order to promote careers within the STEM disciplines, what can you, as students and graduates do to encourage the next generation to follow in your footsteps? And why should you bother?

You’re “cool”

As uncool as it is to use the word “cool”, that’s exactly how students and young graduates appear to school pupils. You have the joint advantage of having been through the process that GCSE and A level pupils are going through, as well as being at an age that they typically look up to. In other words, you have the knowledge and power to positively influence their life choices - so use it!

You are walking examples of the opportunities studying STEM subjects can bring about. This will bring to life otherwise confusing careers presentations and illustrate the benefits of going down that route.

While there may not be any immediate, short-term rewards to promoting skills within your sector, you will not be a student or graduate forever. When you are in a senior position, these students may well be your employees. By widening the talent pool, you’re not only doing your industry a service, but you may well be training potential future staff members.

How you can make a difference

So now you know why you should help to increase the number of pupils taking up STEM subjects, how can you make a difference and have your voice heard?

• Contact local schools in your area and arrange presentations where you can, illustrating what it is you do and the various options available to STEM graduates. You can do this through your employer or, if you’re still a student, as a personal initiative - this will look great on your CV. Perhaps find a network of like-minded students and form a group with which to visit schools.

• Convince your employer of the importance of engaging young people at GCSE age. Perhaps lead a corporate social responsibility (CSR) project within the company to attend careers days as a business or to send out videos to schools nationwide. There are several charities that specialise in linking businesses with schools for the purposes of promoting careers within the engineering and technology sectors so try to liaise with one of those.

• Persuade your employer to take on work experience and allow school children to shadow employees where possible.

• Get blogging! The power of social media is immense and maintaining a simple blog outlining the different opportunities open to STEM students and graduates could make a big difference. Get on Twitter and Facebook to create a community of like-minded students and graduates, as well as pupils who can ask questions and engage. Send the link to the blog and communities to schools around the country, as teachers may well want to use it as a resource.

Never underestimate the power you have as an individual to make a difference. The UK is far behind the innovation of other global economic powers such as the USA and China when it comes to technology, and is also straggling behind Germany’s engineering talent pool. By wide consensus, engineering and technology jobs are among the hardest to fill.

So it’s time for your Braveheart moment. You can help to change your industry for the better - what are you waiting for?

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