Companies need to work hard to persuade students in school of the importance STEM subjects can play in their future careers
It has long been acknowledged that one of the biggest challenges facing the construction industry is the skills gap, and one of the key issues behind this problem is the uptake in the STEM subjects that are essential to careers in construction.
When working with schools, this is something we see frequently, especially as teachers and students are often unaware of the full range of career options that studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects can bring.
This, in my view, is the first challenge for our industry. We need to work together to educate and promote the wide variety of interesting and exciting careers in construction.
As an industry we also need to attract people to a wider range of careers within the industry such as surveying and BIM and all of these disciplines are underpinned by a solid understanding, and study, of STEM subjects at school.
While there has been an increase in the number of entries into STEM subjects (according to the Campaign for Science and Engineering), and this should be celebrated, enrolment is not increasing at the rate we need and the proportion of top grades awarded has actually fallen over the last five years.
We also know that there is a huge gender gap in the uptake of STEM subjects: a gap that widens as career paths and levels of study process
We also know that there is a huge gender gap in the uptake of STEM subjects: a gap that widens as career paths and levels of study process. Current government education policy means that every GCSE pupil is entered for a maths GCSE but when it comes to A-levels, twice as many boys take further maths than girls. This disparity carries on to entry into university courses and apprenticeships. By opening 15 and 16 year olds’ eyes to the possibilities of the built environment we can close this gap.
The Construction Youth Trust’s (CYT) campaign Experience Construction, supported by Building, is a great way to get school children on site with construction companies and understand how their classroom learning can be put into practice in a career. Experiencing working life is an excellent way to encourage more people to pursue a career in construction once they have left education.
As manufacturers supplying the construction industry, we’ve got a responsibility to work with organisations to help tackle this issue. To this end, four years ago we took a decision to support Class of Your Own (COYO). As well as getting students onto sites they bring industry professionals into the classroom to answer the questions students often ask ‘why are we learning this?’ or ‘when will I need this for a job? By helping to answer these valid questions, students begin to recognise the value of what they’re learning and the opportunities it can bring.
By applying academic subjects to a project based learning experience, students can get hands-on with design software and equipment
COYO does this very successfully with its Design Engineer Construct! (DEC!) programme. By applying academic subjects to a project based learning experience, students can get hands-on with design software and equipment that we, as professionals, use every day, which is very exciting for a 16 year old.
DEC! also sees young people put their skills in to practice designing buildings like an eco-classroom using BIM while also learning skills like team work, presenting, self-assessment and critical analysis.
Schemes by organisations like COYO and CYT are what our industry needs to bridge the skills gap, but they can only be successful with industry support.
To remain a buoyant, thriving and exciting industry, we need more talent, so it’s in our best interests to support the next generation of surveyors, engineers and builders. But it is only through this collaborative approach and by companies working with schools and students that we can begin to address the crisis our industry is facing.
David Bennett is business manager at Topcon