I can think of no other professions which contribute more to society than those within science, technology and engineering. These professions change the world. These professions shape society. Let’s take a minute to think about this: Who is responsible for the roads and railways that get you to work? Who created the vaccines that stop your children catching deadly diseases? Who designed the software that allows you to send an email? This is why skills shortages in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) - as highlighted in a recent UKCES report - should be extremely concerning to all of us. If we want to enjoy a society that continues to grow and thrive within the world economy that is.
I became a submarine engineer because I read that ‘designing a submarine is as challenging and complex as designing the space shuttle’. Yes, I love a challenge. But to solve the future challenges within STEM like curing cancer, coping with climate change, a growing world population and the shortage of raw materials, we are going to need more than enthusiasm. In fact, we are going to need approximately 1.86 million more workers with engineering skills within the UK economy by 2020.
‘How are we going to achieve this?’ should be a question on everyone’s minds. And I admit that maybe not many people would be swayed by a job description like the one that led me to submarine design. But every day I hear of more and more exciting opportunities and reasons for pursuing a STEM career. Great opportunities for progression. The chance to make a real difference. International travel. There are some decent salaries around, too.
And yet, despite our efforts we see that numbers have stagnated. In particular, there is a large talent pool that is woefully under-exploited. 50% of STEM GCSEs are taken by girls, and these girls are outperforming the boys. However, nearly 4 out of 5 students taking A-Level physics are male. Women are now a third more likely than men to opt to go to university but 85% of engineering and technology degrees are awarded to men. Only half of female STEM graduates go on to work in STEM roles and only 13% of the STEM workforce in the UK is female.
More needs to be done to encourage female talent into STEM and we all have a part to play. As a member of society, we need to be aware of the amazing things that science, technology and engineering professions contribute to our lives. As parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and teachers, we need to make young girls aware of the career opportunities available and how fulfilling, rewarding and exciting they are. As industry representatives, we need to do all we can to attract and retain female talent. In the media, we need to talk about and promote the wonderful work going on in STEM. As STEM professionals, we need to be outward facing and show the passion we have for our careers every day.
As WISE, our mission is to achieve one million more women in the UK STEM workforce. Yes, I love a challenge but this is one for all of us.
Lucy Collins is a Naval Architect for the Ministry of Defence, currently on secondment to University College London completing a PhD and specialising in submarine design. She is also the Chair of the WISE Young Women’s Board, a unique all-female, under-30 advisory Board to the WISE campaign which promotes women in science, technology and engineering in the UK.
This post gives the views of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the position of UKCES or Commissioners.
 WISE Campaign, UK Statistics 2014, September 2014. Accessed online at www.wisecampaign.org.uk/resources/2014/09/uk-statistics-2014