An innovative education scheme is helping to meet a surge in demand for skilled STEM workers.
Over the last decade there has been rapid growth in students opting to take STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) subjects at university, including a 400% rise in AI (Artificial Intelligence) applicants UK-wide.
Despite this, there is still an overwhelming need for more candidates in areas including IT, Computer Science, Engineering, Data Analysis and Biology, which is why STEM Gogledd is working hard to attract more young people into these sectors.
Targeting 11 to 19 year olds in Conwy, Anglesey and Gwynedd, the project launched two years ago and was gaining momentum when Covid-19 took hold in the UK; all communications were moved online and as a result they managed to unite industry and academia to help bring through the next generation of apprentices and employees.
Supported by funding from WEFO (Welsh European Funding Office) and the European Social Fund (ESF), Regional Manager Dyfed Jones says their aim is to increase awareness and interest in STEM from an early age.
“A lot of the younger children are unsure what STEM is, and, as they grow older, whether there will be a viable career in it for them,” said Dyfed.
“Through this initiative we can engage Year 7 onwards and go on that journey with them through school to higher education, an apprenticeship or the world of work.
“We do this via mentoring and our close partnerships with companies across North Wales, hosting visits and welcoming them to speak to the pupils. During Covid we have had to do this virtually but that has made them more accessible and means more than one school can take part.”
Working with thousands of students and staff at 24 secondary schools across the three counties, the STEM Gogledd team will begin holding face-to-face sessions when it is safe to do so – adhering to social distancing and Coronavirus rules – and are also planning to launch a new podcast.
They hope to hear from businesses this academic year, and also want to engage more girls in what is traditionally a male-dominated arena.
“The number of women in STEM careers is rising but it is still only around 25%,” said Dyfed.
“Education is key and so is demonstrating – for girls and boys – that there are options for them in STEM right here in North Wales.
“We have many incredible companies in this region and there is demand for skilled workers, so we have to step up and meet that challenge as the issue is very much on the agenda in Wales and we are at the forefront of a push to fill these roles for this and future generations.”
He added: “Our service was launched just six months before the Coronavirus pandemic; like many organisations we were hit for six and stopped in our tracks for a little while.
“We were really making inroads and getting into the schools, so we hope to be able to do so again in now and bring business and industry into the classroom.
“The aim is to embed stem into the curriculum even more and to work closely with teachers, parents and their communities to help drive young people to skilled jobs, jobs that will make a difference to the North Wales economy.
“We will keep working hard to do that and engaging with more companies, as from this coming year onwards more than one in five jobs will be in STEM industries.”