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Exploring the impact of STEM

Research from Randstad reveals the positive impact of STEM on the UK's economy, and why encouraging students to consider a STEM career is desirable

Posted by Charley Rogers | September 22, 2018 | Higher education

STEM, four little letters that stand for big subjects: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Careers within STEM account for 20% of the UK’s total workforce, employing close to 5.8 million people. Clearly, STEM matters.

Nevertheless, many wonder ‘What has STEM ever done for me?’ Besides the huge economic contribution that STEM makes annually, it also affects lives on a daily basis by improving healthcare, infrastructure, and so much more. Without STEM-based discoveries, the world as we know it today would be a very different place.

Results from a poll conducted by Randstad show that not many people know what STEM stands for (1109 votes in total):

  • No (688 votes, 62%)
  • Yes (421 votes, 38%)

Whilst it may be easy to picture a life without phones or cars, it’s much more difficult to think of it without core discoveries that changed the course of so much: vaccines, internet, concrete, mass production, even the humble number zero. In 2016, the largest known prime number was discovered witha whopping 22,338,618 digits thanks to specialist computer software (CPUs, central processing units) running across a global network of processors, reaching 450 million calculations per second.

None of this would be possible without dedicated individuals working in STEM fields – researching and pushing the boundaries of human innovation.

 It's crucial that we further raise the profile of STEM at a grassroots level as we need our future generations to bridge the skills gap.
– Owen Goodhead, Randstad

Experts now acknowledge that the UK is facing a skills shortage and the same goes for STEM. The UK Commission for Employment & Skills has found that up to 43% of STEM vacancies are hard to fill due to the scarcity of applicants with the relevant skills and experience, and this isn’t likely to resolve itself in the near future.

Addressing this issue before it’s too late is at the forefront for many. Owen Goodhead, Randstad’s MD of Construction said: “We're already experiencing a skills chasm, with employers increasingly leaning on the expertise of recruiters to secure scarce and highly-skilled talent. It's crucial that we further raise the profile of STEM at a grassroots level as we need our future generations to bridge the skills gap. As part of this, we must inspire fresh ways of looking at how STEM impacts our working world and how previous STEM discoveries have influenced our lives and careers in order to promote future findings and nurture diversity."

But something positive can come of this too; students can be encouraged to pursue STEM-based fields of study with the promise of employment at the end, something that not many other paths can guarantee in an unstable economy. For Ruth Jacobs, MD of Randstad’s Business Solutions, this rings particularly true. She said: “A savvy STEM student has a bright future ahead of them as the skills shortage show no signs of ending anytime soon. GDPR had a significant impact on the demand for cybersecurity experts, data protection officers and data analysts in 2018, who as a result are now able to demand a higher salary due to many organisations fearing to be non-compliant.”

According to Victoria Short, MD of Randstad Public Services, we could all do with a refresher on why STEM matters and how it helped to shape our world. She believes that “as adults, it's important to revisit some of the discoveries and role models that shaped today's world of work to help inspire the next generation of much needed nurses, care workers and teachers, who have the potential to make a real change to the way we live and work while helping to fight the battle against the UK skills shortage in these areas."

For more information on the impact of STEM, you can visit Randstad’s STEMisphere resource, here

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