From education to employment

The continued importance of developing STEM skills post-pandemic

The need for more training in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) throughout Scotland has existed for many years now, and that doesn’t look set to change any time soon.

As we mark British Science Week this week (11-20 March), many of those who work in the industry have been considering how we can attract more youngsters in Scotland to work in these fields.

A Scottish Government report published prior to the coronavirus pandemic showed (Future Skills Action Plan for Scotland, September 19) the growing skills shortage among STEM employers in Scotland, with the percentage of vacancies sitting at 7.7% of the total workforce.

That figure was higher than the average skills gap vacancies rate across all other sectors in Scotland, reinforcing the challenge facing this industry. That demand looks set to continue, as despite the pandemic affecting job markets around the world, reports (New Scientist, April 21) have suggested that job prospects in the STEM sector have been amongst the least affected during what has been an unprecedented period of global economic uncertainty. 

It therefore remains as important as ever to harness STEM talent. By doing this we can which help create a modern, dynamic, and open economy, something which is even more vital in the wake of the pandemic.

That is one of the many reasons why here at Fife College, we are fully committed to developing STEM skills across the region.

We have invested over £400,000 on a range of equipment which will allow our students to learn about the latest manufacturing technology being used, becoming the first College in Scotland to buy in such a significant range of equipment for students which will provide them with the most realistic and high-quality training environment available.

We know the digitalisation and automation of manufacturing processes is evolving all the time, so this new technology will help ensure our students are equipped with the skills needed to work in any modern factory.

Another major STEM investment, in partnership with Fife Council Economic Development, has seen the purchase of 3D printers for pupils on the STEM Technologies course, run through our School College Partnership Programme.

The printers help teach pupils how to capture 2D imagery and convert it into 3D models which can then be printed, with eight primary schools taking part in practical lessons with hands on activities. Not only does this help to inspire more school pupils into learning about STEM, but with more products being designed on computers and 3D printed, there will undoubtedly be a demand for highly skilled workers within the computing and technology fields.

As well as inspiring and equipping the talent of tomorrow, we are also working with partners to ensure local businesses are supported today when it comes to STEM skills.

Part of this strategy has seen the College partner with the University of Cambridge to become a training lead in Scotland for their innovative new digital manufacturing project.

Delivered by the University’s Institute for Manufacturing (IfM), the ‘Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring’ programme is developing design guidelines, standards, and interactive software which will help enable small manufacturers to develop low-cost digital solutions from a catalogue of “shoestring-ready” hardware and software technologies.

This award-winning partnership has already provided some great opportunities for SME manufacturers in the region to see example solutions and engage with our team who have been on hand to support with implementation and upskilling.

There are further plans to expand this project and others, again underlining our commitment to addressing the needs of these industries. Whether it is inspiring the next generation or supporting the here and now, Fife College will continue to do all we can to help develop STEM skills across the region and throughout the country.

By Stephen Ayton, Academic Head for Engineering, Science, Mathematics and STEM, at Fife College

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