This is a guest blog from Edwina Dunn, chair of the Your Life Campaign, which seeks to inspire young people by championing the range of career opportunities unlocked by studying maths and science.
Last week, the very latest in cutting-edge technology from around the world was showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. While the programme was dominated by announcements from the likes of South Korean Samsung and LG and American Intel, British companies and entrepreneurs were few and far between.
Given Britain’s track record of innovation, its under-representation at this year’s convention is surprising. From the first foray into computer programming led by Ada Lovelace in 1800s to Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the World Wide Web a century and a half later, the technology revolution has been led by those from the UK who are unafraid to challenge the way things are done.
To get Britain back to its best, we need both great innovation and great people. While there is no question about the quality of research produced in the UK, for this to make a real impact on the world stage, Britain must address its current skills deficit. According to the Campaign for Science and Engineering, the UK suffers from an annual shortfall of 40,000 STEM-skilled workers. By 2030 7.1 million UK jobs will rely on science skills a 1.3 million increase on today’s number. If we are to meet this demand, young people must be encouraged to continue studying science and maths after these subjects are no longer compulsory.
Far too few young people, even the highest performers, are gaining the essential skills acquired through studying science and maths to university level – for example 80% of girls who achieve an A* grade in physics GCSE do not continue the subject to A Level. The careers of the future will rely on the skills learned through STEM subjects, and it is vital that we inspire the next generation with the full range of possibilities they unlock.
While 79% of young people would consider a STEM career, 51% say they know little or nothing about the type of jobs on offer. CES itself is a great example of the careers possible for individuals with a solid foundation in STEM subjects – from self-driving and hydrogen cars to virtual reality headsets. Only with these examples will we be able to confront traditional perceptions of science and maths and make the real link between exciting jobs and STEM skills.
This is the idea behind our Formula 100 competition, which invites schoolchildren aged 11-18 from across the country to submit a 30 second video, describing what they would invent and why. The competition will work to build an ongoing membership group of 100 students, who will be offered the support of entrepreneurs and business figures to help guide their career choices.
If Britain is going to lay its claim firmly on the technology of the future, it is of the utmost importance to inspire a culture of innovation among schoolchildren. Only by emphasising the tangible and exciting applications of the skills learned in maths and science, will Britain be able to motivate its next generation of world-class innovators.