Editor’s comment: “I believe the children are our future…

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

03 July 2021

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

Teach them well and let them lead the way”. So sang the late, great Whitney Houston in her chart-topping 1985 cover of the George Benson hit, ‘The Greatest Love of All’ – a song he recorded as the main theme of the 1977 film, The Greatest, a biopic of the iconic boxer, Muhammad Ali.

This editorial leader was originally featured in the July 2021 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. And sign up to receive your own copy each month.

But as cheesy as some may view the lyrical sentiment, it comes from a kernel of truth. And for STEM (science, technology, engineering & mathematics) in particular – now, more than ever – this message is vital to understand and act on...

A theme close to my heart, I’ve often talked about engineers as heroes here on EPDT – those who create and develop the technologies to solve the grand challenges facing society and improve everyday life. From addressing climate change and harnessing renewable energy sources, to improving global healthcare and ensuring universal access to clean water, to maximising the benefits of robotics and AI for all, we depend on engineering (and scientific) heroes to help ultimately solve these challenges.

As a non-engineer, I feel fortunate to have worked alongside engineers for the majority of my career, witnessing the amazing work they do and helping tell their stories – so this truism has always seemed self-evident to me. Meanwhile, the STEM skills gap and shortfall of engineers flowing into the profession has been well known and documented for decades. But for a post-COVID world, with government talk of ‘building back better’ and ‘levelling up’ across the UK, the demand for STEM heroes has never been more stark.

The inexorable digital transformation of society has been accelerated by COVID, as many more people have had to rapidly ramp up their use of, reliance upon and comfort with digital devices, channels and experiences – as they work or study from home, access services including remote healthcare and online shopping, and replace trips and meetings in public places with Zoom hangouts and virtual events. Even in the physical world, COVID is impacting interactions, with growing use of contact free (or at least reduced) ordering, delivery, ticketing, payment and check-out technologies. And as ever, technology, usually created by engineers, is the crucial enabler.

So a new report from EngineeringUK, and seven other engineering and careers organisations (including the IET, IMechE and Royal Academy of Engineering), called ‘Securing the future’, is very timely. It calls on government to urgently invest £40 million in improving access to careers provision for school and college students in England to enable more young people to understand the opportunities available in STEM careers.

The report details how careers leaders and STEM teachers have reported that it has become more difficult to engage with employers since the start of the pandemic, with many saying that careers activities have been put on hold because of time pressures. It also highlights the ‘digital divide’, with schools and students from poorer areas suffering from a lack of access to technology and the internet. Meanwhile, equality and diversity remain barriers to reaching young people, with a lack of STEM role models for girls, pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds and students from lower socio-economic brackets.

EngineeringUK Chief Executive, Dr Hilary Leevers points out that “youth unemployment figures show young people have been hit hardest by the pandemic, which has exacerbated existing issues, such as the digital divide, further reducing opportunities for young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds”. STEM provides opportunities for good quality, secure employment, improving the life chances of young people – irrespective of their gender, ethnicity or socio-economic background – and, in turn, helping address the government agenda to ‘build back better’, ‘level up’ and reach net zero. Let’s hope they take heed to secure the future!

EPDT July 2021's issue also contains features on Electromechanical (including connectors & enclosures) technologies and Military & Aerospace applications, plus the latest edition of EPDT's twice-yearly Electronics Distribution supplement. Read more on what's inside EPDT this month...

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