From education to employment

STEM strategies – get your students ready for employment opportunities

Aligning Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) education and training provision to employer needs is crucial if we are to generate sustained economic growth. The growth in demand for STEM managers, technicians, technologists and professional and associate professional occupations over the current decade is considerable.

According to the Engineering Employers Federation, for example, replacement demand in engineering related disciplines is likely to be over 500,000. An equal number is needed in digital and cyber security technologies. In power and nuclear energy their demand for new skills remains significant and beyond the scale of one provider.

Even in the food and drink sector, just under half of the companies in this industry have highlighted high level skills shortages – particularly in such areas as product development specialists and shift managers. They also highlight demand for training in areas such as food production technologies, food engineering and process equipment design, packaging design and waste treatment techniques. Turning to logistics and with the development of biogas and hybrid vehicles, coupled with the need for emission reduction and just in time distribution and delivery, the story for high level skills remains prominent.

A recent report by Professor John Perkins, the chief scientific adviser for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), into improving the UK’s engineering talent pipeline has again highlighted the acute issue of demand for British engineers, and the chronic technical and scientific skills-shortages threatening the livelihood of many UK businesses.

Employers often ask “why should my company do business with a college?” Conversely, colleges often ask us “what solutions should we be offering to employers?”

There is an old adage that ‘education can’t deliver what industry wants’, and ‘industry doesn’t tell education what it wants’. This impasse is partially responsible for the skills shortages we are experiencing today. If educational institutions want to attract industrial giants to work with them in developing new skills, the return on investment from developing grassroots talent needs to be demonstrated by creating value. And not just a monetary one. The real value is in partnership which goes beyond a training needs analysis! This where STEM strategies can play an effective role in creating sustainable collaborations between colleges and employers.

So, are education providers factoring in employer needs, market demands and learning trends? And, how compelling is the STEM offer to employers and learners?

An increasing number of determined further and higher education providers are embracing a more systematic approach to addressing these alignment issues. NEF, with its deeply rooted technical and scientific capability blended with a strong econometric and educational understanding, has actively supported over fifty colleges to reposition their offer.

NEF has developed STEM strategies enabling colleges to:

• tackle barriers that prevent young people from obtaining employability skills

• strategically align their provision and offers to meet the needs of growth sectors, and

• address the challenges of replacement demand of the aging workforce.

NEF has, for example, worked with West Cheshire College and enabled them to define clearly their strategic STEM areas and launch a STEM Manifesto, highlighting key pledges in priority areas of sustainability, life sciences, engineering and construction – all of which are underpinned by a core of mathematics and applied science. Sara Mogel, Principal at West Cheshire College, said: “Preparing students for a successful and sustainable career is central to our work as a college. Equally, we have a responsibility to support the economy across the region with staff who have the right knowledge and transferable skills to meet labour market needs.”

Other colleges we have, and continue, to work with include Blackburn College, Bournemouth and Poole College, Cambridge Regional College, Highbury College, Leicester College, Milton Keynes College, Oxford and Cherwell Valley College, South West College, The Sheffield College and Tyne Metropolitan College.

Our highly qualified and experienced STEM team work closely with the college’s senior management to create an effective STEM strategy that stimulates innovation and nurtures behaviours that support and drive open and creative practices, making the most of existing and potential talent within learners and staff.

Developing a STEM strategy begins with a rigorous local economic assessment designed to identify the strategic skillset needed for the region the college serves. It focuses on priority sectors where growth or demand is likely to be demonstrable. It then assesses customer and learner profile, progression and the college’s competitive positioning. It also takes into account local, regional and national policies and contexts, as well as evaluating partnership engagement and current and anticipated capability and competency of the college and its staff. The final strategy is a critical tool which impacts across the whole college, from ongoing strategic investment planning to curriculum development and employer engagement.

To ensure that technical and professional transferrable skills sit alongside the personal transferrable attributes and behaviours, we encourage the use of the T-Shaped Technologist Framework in curriculum development. This supports the development of a combination of skills enormously sought after by employers.

At NEF we regard innovation as the golden thread, weaving through the constituents of a STEM strategy. Through this approach, colleges can bestow confidence in employer engagement and create long term collaborations that ultimately drive student employability and contribute to regional wealth creation.

Professor Sa’ad Medhat is chief executive of NEF: The Innovation Institute, the professional body and provider of SciTech innovation and growth services to business, education and government


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