How do I get a well-paid job? It's a question many young people understandably worry about and now we have the answer: new research from the Department for Education shows that studying maths and science subjects to an advanced level results in an 8% earnings premium for men, and as much as 33% for women. It's a simple equation: maths (and science) means money.
This is a vital message, but one that is not yet getting through to enough young people. Fewer than 20% of 16-19 year olds in England are studying maths and while the number of physics A level students has been steadily increasing, it still stands at just over 36,000 – compared to 52,131 for history and 85,336 for English. That's both a cap on the career potential of many, and a significant impediment to the businesses who are in serious need of maths and science skills. As a recent report from the Campaign for Science and Engineering showed, the UK faces an annual shortfall of as many as 40,000 STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skilled workers.
The worrying reality is that many young people self-select out of maths and science because they do not see them as relevant or accessible. The misperception persists that maths and science are niche specialisms for the brainy few, leading only to careers in a laboratory. Yet in a changing world dominated by technology, the skills learned from studying maths and science are crucial to success in all professions from fashion, sport and film to manufacturing, banking and accountancy.
It is to address this awareness deficit that I created "Your Life", a campaign to inspire young people by championing the range of career opportunities unlocked by studying maths and science at A Level. Backed by government, we work with a coalition of major employers to demonstrate the central importance of these subjects to young people's future lives and job prospects.
The fact is we need more young people to study maths and science to ensure the UK economy has the skills it needs to compete on the world stage. Whether through academic study at A level and in higher education, or equivalent qualifications and training in the workplace, our education system must equip young people with the skills they need. And as the new DfE findings have shown, studying these subjects is as important to the earning prospects of individuals as it is to the continued success of businesses. It's a win-win.
Teachers, parents and above all, students themselves, must be shown the advantages studying maths and science brings and the world of opportunity they unlock. We need to bring business and education closer so that young people can be made aware of the changing realities about their career and the skills they will require.
Quiz a typical fourteen year old and it is likely they will be passionate about gaming, fashion, sport or film but will be unaware that what they learn in their maths and science lessons can provide the basis to build a career in any of those industries.
It is only by restoring the link between these subjects and their real life applications that we can we start to make a different to the skills shortage British companies face. We recently took young students from across London into a series of innovative companies including Spotify, AOL and Unruly to show them how maths and science are used in the workplace – inspiring introductions about real and creative jobs tackled their misperceptions head on, opening eyes to what science and maths, beyond the classroom, can make possible.
Young people need to know there is no such thing as a maths or science person. Through better and more accessible teaching and working with employers and industry we need to show them that maths and science open up endless possibilities for not only their future but for Britain's future too.
Edwina Dunn is the co-founder of customer science company dunnhumby, and chair of STEM campaign 'Your Life'