Diversity in STEM careers

Over 40,000 jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) go unfilled every year. One way to tackle this skills shortage is to improve the diversity of STEM sectors and make these careers more attractive to females, those from lower socio-economic backgrounds and those from ethnic minority groups. 

Why is STEM important?

You will have heard of STEM in school, but how do those subjects relate to the working world?

STEM subjects are needed to deal with changes in society, such as technological advancements and the internet of things. The development of Covid 19 vaccines further demonstrates the importance of STEM subjects for years to come. Just look at this NGTU case study from Angela Chinoso Nwandu who is an apprentice with Astra Zeneca!

So, having a STEM qualification makes you very employable. Yet, the UK demand for STEM cannot actually be met if more young people from underrepresented groups do not choose STEM careers.

Why is diversity in STEM so important?

Despite the evidence that shows a diverse workforce increases innovation, productivity and revenue, there are clearly still vast imbalances in the UK STEM workforce. The covid 19 pandemic has demonstrated the increasing need for technological skills, for example, due to increased remote working and use of computers and smart technology. It is important that this sector is more representative of those that it will serve.

What is the current situation?

While you may have heard that women are under-represented in STEM careers, you may not know by how much. According to Wise (Women in Science and Engineering), women make up just 12.8% of the total Stem workforce in the UK. One third of women are put off pursuing a career in STEM industries, because they see it as a male-dominated industry. 

A study carried out by Milkround also found that 23% of female school leavers believe their male counterparts receive more support in choosing a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) career than they do and over 50% of respondents believe that women struggle to earn as much as men in STEM industries.

In addition, less than one in five of UK technology workers is a woman or from a BAME background. One in five is over 50, and only one in 10 has a disability. A 2018 Engineering UK report found that only 8.1% of men and women working in engineering were from BAME groups.

What could be the reasons behind these figures?

There is still a lot of misunderstanding about what a STEM career actually involves. Many still see STEM as a white male sector, or the jobs as being dirty, heavy work. This misconception has been passed down through generations and reinforced by influencers. By influencers, I do not mean those you follow on Instagram, I mean friends, teachers, parents, and guardians.

Sadly, these perceptions are embedded from an early age, with studies showing young girls are twice as likely to draw men as they are women when asked to illustrate a scientist or mathematician.

However, the reality is that there are so many different career paths that there is no one set of skills or job to sum up the sector. Diversity in the sector is also improving, albeit slowly.

You could be working on computer games design, working on Formula One race cars, working in a Cadbury chocolate factory, working in the RAF, working on aircraft design, working in the space science sector, working in medicine, or working on creating new perfumes or cosmetics.

There is also misunderstanding about the salaries on offer in STEM. Graduate salaries in engineering can be just as good as those within medicine and law. According to research carried out by Deloitte, the gap in starting salaries between men and women who have STEM subjects and go on to take jobs in those spheres is smaller than in any other subjects studied.

Young people may think that STEM is ‘not for people like us’. However, STEM sectors are increasingly supportive and inclusive working environments. Many female scientists and engineers successfully combine their careers with other priorities, such as childcare. Employers are becoming more aware of the importance in offering flexible working arrangements, and reasonable adjustments for disabled employees. Many employers are also establishing staff diversity networks.

There are also lots of projects, initiatives, and networks to support diversity in STEM. One example is The Association for Black and Ethnic Minority Engineers (AFBE). This association provides a range of projects specifically aimed at BAME students. They aim to help young BAME professionals succeed professionally and are a sound support network for ethnic STEM students.

How can you get into STEM careers?

If you’re taking your A levels but you’re not sure that going to university full time is the best path for you, there are several apprenticeships to help you start your career in Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths.

If you’re looking for a job in STEM straight after your A levels, Highers, or International Baccalaureate, you could embark on an apprenticeship programme, including a degree apprenticeship. An apprenticeship will usually involve working towards a qualification such as an HNC, an HND or a foundation degree. A degree apprenticeship (known as graduate apprenticeships in Scotland) will involve studying towards a Bachelors or Masters degree.

In Scotland, you could undertake a Foundation Apprenticeship in your senior years of High School and choose from options including engineering, finance, and science. 

It’s likely that you’ll need to have studied at least one relevant technical subject, such as biology, chemistry, maths, or physics, depending on which area of science the apprenticeship is in.

NGTU has many apprenticeships advertised with new ones added all the time!

Virtual work experience

As social distancing seems set to remain for the foreseeable future, more and more employers are beginning to provide virtual work experience opportunities to students and young people. This is an ideal opportunity for young people to learn more about STEM careers. Placements are available across several sectors including accountancy, engineering, computing, science, marketing, and law. Some companies and businesses currently offering virtual work experience include:

Barclays LifeSkills, Cyber Discovery and Future Learn – the latter of whom are offering a course on exploring the Veterinary profession. Leonardo are also offering engineering placements.

Final words

Whilst the figures look bleak, you can rest assured that there are many projects and initiatives to improve diversity in STEM. If you think this is a career path for you, then speak to your teacher or careers adviser for more information. Use NGTU to research the different opportunities, including apprenticeships, that are available and reach out to the many diversity networks that are out there. Be the change you want to see in the world.

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