Today is STEM Day, and according to STEM Learning, the current shortage of employees with STEM skills is costing UK businesses £1.5bn a year in recruitment. And with new STEM roles expected to double in the next ten years, this is a gap that businesses need to help close.

As Krishna Subramanian, COO at Komprise, states: “Technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives – from online shopping to our privacy and security, autonomous cars to health and genomics – and that’s just to name a few. In light of this, STEM education is no longer just for students who want to pursue an engineering career, as there are so many more industries that need tech skills. It is vital in nearly every career from law and public policy, to medicine, to engineering, and the arts.”

With this in mind, to promote STEM Day (8th November), Verdict spoke to 13 technology experts on why STEM education is so vital for their industry, and how businesses can encourage more students and adults alike to take up these subjects.

Starting out in STEM

So where should we start with STEM? Michelle Fitzgerald, director, Demand Gen & Events at Plutora, believes that “the best way to advance the industries that rely on STEM knowledge in the future is to encourage children – both boys and girls – now to take an interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics at a young age. Diversifying the STEM workforce will ensure that technology will continue to revolutionise the world around us and bring positive impact to a broader range of industries.”

April Taylor, vice president at ConnectWise Manage, agrees that education is crucial for boosting STEM interest:

“Every industry is tied to technology, so it’s great that the right education is available, especially to younger aged kids because now they’re getting more exposure early on to potential careers within the tech sector. Technology is more pervasive and the exposure to coding and product development is there for a lot of kids, so it’s a matter of getting them excited about taking this recreational or academic assignment and turning it into a career. Organisations should consider this when looking at the incoming workforce, especially since IT is always changing and the industry requires constant education to stay ahead of the curve.”

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“Technology is constantly evolving and as such we need to remember that in order to continue to develop and innovate, we require fresh ideas and new skills,” explains Alan Conboy, Office of the CTO at Scale Computing. “This is why days like STEM day, are important, because globally we are suffering from a digital skills shortage in areas including AI, hybrid, edge, cloud-based development and management. Both educators and industry leaders need to support and encourage more children and young adults into developing their STEM skills and show the students of today that they could be the CTOs of tomorrow.”

“Change and progress in the technology industry is constant,” states Josh Flinn, director of Product Strategy & Innovation at Cybera. “The challenge is there is a huge talent shortage – there simply aren’t enough individuals with the right digital skills. In fact, in the UK alone there are an estimated 600,000 technology vacancies, with 52% business claiming it is hard to find the talent they need to fill the roles. Days like STEM/STEAM day serve as an important reminder to providing accessible resources and opportunities to encourage students develop their STEM skillsets.”

Additionally, Rich Pugh, chief data scientist and co-founder, Mango Solutions, suggests that we must “educate young people beyond just ‘performing’ data science and focus more on the high-level concepts, mechanics and language of data science that will prepare young people for a workforce that is increasingly based on data-driven approaches and operating models. Data is absolutely the currency of future business, so an understanding of its possibilities – as well as potential dangers – is a crucial element of learning.”

Creating a gender balance

While education for all is important, Agata Nowakowska, area vice president at Skillsoft, identifies why it’s particularly vital to encourage more girls and women to take up STEM subjects:

“Young girls have claimed in the past that they are put off of subjects such as computing because they see them as ‘too difficult’, but a large number of young women have also admitted to regretting not pursing STEM subjects for longer. That’s why the onus is on parents, teachers and business leaders to show that there is a place for girls in STEM. There are so many programmes aimed at getting girls interested in these areas, but we need to go further to challenge and eradicate the old-fashioned views that are clearly still very much ingrained in the public consciousness.”

“The key to building a strong STEM skill base lies in instilling love and enthusiasm from an early age,” agrees Joseph Feiman, chief strategy officer at WhiteHat Security. “While schools are striving to ensure that their STEM curriculums are more robust, they can and should also leverage learning opportunities outside of the classroom to enhance learning, such as after-school clubs or programs, camps or tutoring.

“One nonprofit organisation making huge strides in this regard is Girls Who Code, which is working to close the gender employment difference in technology. It offers a pathway for girls who have completed courses to transition from middle or high school into the technology workforce, as well as a supportive community to help students and alumni persevere and achieve success.”

Yumi Nishiyama, director of Global Services at Exabeam, highlights how “the gender gap definitely still exists in a variety of ways, many of which are widely publicised. For example, statistics say only 20% of individuals in tech are women, and only 11% percent of individuals in cybersecurity are women. We need more women in upper leadership, and the unequal wage issue is still a reality.

“We need to continue encouraging females in STEM education and build more support structures for women throughout their careers. My biggest piece of advice for women of all ages would be: ‘do not be afraid to use your voice.’ As women, we bring different ideas and strengths. Be confident in what you’re good at, pursue what you’re passionate about, and let that be the focal point, not the stereotypes.”

STEM Day: Learning for life

STEM Day is not just about encouraging young people into STEM subjects, but also about promoting continuous learning for adults too, as Sascha Giese, head geek at SolarWinds, comments:

“In the public sector, technology professionals need to keep up with training to not only ensure they’re up to date on the technologies that can benefit their sector, but also for their own career development. Rather than seeing this training as time wasted away from their job, according to the SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2019, public sector tech pros enjoy training in the workplace, with 49% finding it informative, 44% saying it’s engaging and interactive, and 20% reporting it’s not long enough.

“For teams to tailor the training they receive to make it as valuable as possible, they should evaluate their current environments; for example, asking themselves which leading technologies from last year have made their way into today’s IT environment.

Svenja de Vos, CTO at Leaseweb, reveals that “when it comes to filling technology roles most organisations are still struggling to find the right people with the right expertise. A key underlying reason for this seems to be the widening gap between what’s being taught in the classroom and what’s needed in the real world.

“But though the adaptation of technology aspects may be not be happening fast enough, it’s still vital to have a solid technology foundation such as a computer science or software degree. Keeping up with the tech revolution, however, means that STEM learning shouldn’t stop there. So while we as a business strive to ensure that our employees stay as up to speed as possible through group training on specific tools or languages key to both the business and skills development, we strongly encourage students, graduates and technological evangelists wanting to enter the industry to proactively seek out opportunities to learn advanced digital skills.”

Put your plan into action

Implementing these tips into your business is the next crucial step. Ketna Makwana, HR manager at Node4, believes “it’s important that businesses get involved and encourage students to study STEM subjects. Node4 works with colleges and schools to encourage them to understand what it is like to work in technology and the ways in which they can add value. Yes, there’s a skills gap that needs addressing, and to help resolve this, it’s important that businesses look for individuals that are interested in STEM and help them to grow and develop their skills.”

“Education, particularly in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), is the key to addressing many of society’s greatest challenges,” concludes Connie Stack, chief strategy officer at Digital Guardian. “Recent research from Microsoft and KRC Research found that confidence in STEM wanes as children get older – especially in girls – but interest can be recovered when subjects are related to real-world people and problems. At Digital Guardian we’re trying to do just that by sponsoring the United Way STEM program, including hosting girls and boys for a cyber security training camp every summer.”

As STEM Day comes around each year, it’s a good opportunity for schools and businesses to work together and encourage more children, as well as adults, to learn about STEM subjects. As the careers that require these skills are growing in number by the day, students and employees with knowledge in these areas stand out from the crowd, and will help to make a lasting impact on whatever industry they choose.

Read more: UK attempts to plug STEM skills shortage with science visa scheme