STEM Matters: How can STEM education help address the challenges facing young people?...

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

02 September 2020

STEM graphic_580x280
STEM graphic_580x280

The recent publication of the 2020 Youth Voice Census is a timely reminder of the need to listen to and value the voices of young people. Over the last few months, the coronavirus pandemic & subsequent lockdown has disrupted education, the workplace and our very way of life.

This column was originally featured in the September 2020 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

Along with the rest of us, young people have been forced from their schools, colleges, universities, apprenticeships and jobs. And not only were those students who should have been sitting their A-level and GCSE exams this summer prevented from doing so, but they had to endure a worrying and poorly handled results fiasco. This report demonstrates some of the concerns young people have for the future and offers some insight into their attitudes to education, work and other related issues.

First launched in 2017 by Youth Employment UK, an independent, not-for-profit social enterprise founded in 2012 to tackle youth unemployment, the annual Youth Voice Census is a temperature check of how young people of all backgrounds feel about education, training, experience, work and prospects in the UK today. The results are presented to decision-makers to help guide UK youth employment policy.

Youth Employment UK was set up after the economic crash in 2008 led to a rise in youth unemployment to 1 million,” said Laura-Jane Rawlings, Youth Employment UK Chief Executive Officer. “This year, we could see that rise to between 1.5 and 2 million. Depending on how long some parts of the economy take to recover, young people will find it harder to access the labour market than ever before.

The importance of meaningful work experience

1,390 young people were surveyed, 82% between the ages 14-19, including 56% female respondents, and their responses indicated a need for more work experience opportunities, including more frequent visits from apprenticeship providers and employers. Unfortunately, these opportunities are at greater risk during economic recession – especially during times of unemployment and social distancing.

Inequality in the provision of careers information

The report suggested that young men are more likely to hear about apprenticeship opportunities and starting a business, while young women are more likely to hear about academic opportunities. Young black men, and those with additional educational needs, are less likely to hear about apprenticeships and opportunities at university. Worryingly, those receiving free school meals are 20% more likely to be told about accessing Jobcentre provision. This needs addressing to ensure more opportunities for all young people – as well as to give employers access to the broadest pool of young talent from all backgrounds!

Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT
Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT

Confidence levels

Young men were typically more confident in their ability to find work than young women. 34% of black respondents were ‘not very confident at all’ that there would be quality work opportunities in their local area, compared to 22% of Asian respondents and 9% of white respondents.

Improving the work experience offering in schools

86% of respondents agreed that work experience helped them make decisions about the future and, interestingly, almost 60% of respondents found their placements themselves, or through a parent, carers or other relative. Compared to this, only 24% of placements were sourced through the school itself, highlighting a greater need for support and professional development, and better links with employers.

The report suggests ways to improve, including presenting more varied opportunities to all pupils, both vocational and academic, and more work experience opportunities for all students throughout the duration of school.

Those who face levels of disadvantage are likely to see those gaps widen, and the impact of COVID-19 on youth unemployment is likely to be catastrophic,” said Youth Employment UK CEO, Rawlings. “We must take action to collectively ensure that young people have the skills, knowledge and confidence to enable them to find their pathway and to ensure that they don’t fall further victim because of their age. Employers and those organisations supporting young people must come together to create good quality opportunities. And we must stop deciding what young people need without listening to them.

How can STEM help?...

With the UK continuing to face a STEM skills shortage, governments, educators and employers are eager to find creative ways to inspire young people to consider STEM careers, while offering a broad and balanced curriculum. The UK’s largest provider of STEM education & careers support, STEM Learning, supports pupils by helping improve the teaching of STEM subjects in the classroom and providing professionally recognised CPD for teachers, supporting parents with home learning, and through its STEM Ambassadors programme. By educating parents and educators on the importance of STEM and the career opportunities it offers, they can help guide and inspire pupils to pursue STEM subjects.

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