More ‘fun’ in STEM subjects could help solve the ongoing UK skills shortage

Industry specialists say more ‘fun’ in STEM subjects could help solve the ongoing UK skills shortage

The UK skills shortage in STEM-related industries remains in a critical state according to the latest figures provided by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC). Results from the economic survey, captured at the end of 2017, reflects that 75% of manufacturers admit finding talent with the correct level of skill remains a consistent difficulty.

This supports a previously published CBI report that found 40% of employers struggled when hiring, but in juxtaposition, also predicted that by 2020 more than 50% of the UK workforce would be ‘knowledge workers’ – whose skills would depend largely on the quality of their STEM education.

Against this backdrop, a leading UK manufacturer and marketer for the education sector is stepping up its activities to promote and popularise STEM subjects among learners of all ages. Working with respected educationalists such as Professor Peter Barrett and Dr. Katherine Forsey, the company in question, Gratnells, has developed a wide-ranging approach to the sector called Learning Rooms, which addresses a broad sweep of the teaching and learning environment both indoors and out.

With its own business based historically around systems of storage, structure and organisation, Gratnells has embraced forward thinking on issues such as less formal classroom layouts and use of colour.  One example of this is the Clever Classrooms report from the Head Project which concluded, “There is clear evidence that the physical characteristics of primary schools do impact on pupils’ learning progress in reading, writing and mathematics.”

Professor Peter Barrett was one of the lead researchers for this study, which went on to consider the ‘SIN’ framework of factors; Stimulation, visual complexity and colour; Individualisation, ownership, personalisation, distinction and flexibility and Naturalness, light, temperature, air quality, sound and links to nature.

In the STEM subjects, which may traditionally have been more associated with formality and detail, these factors are no less important, contends Dr Katherine Forsey, an established education consultant and an outdoor learning specialist, who has developed a number of projects and resources in collaboration with Gratnells, with a particular emphasis on STEM subjects. These include the sponsorship and management of the Science Technician of the Year Awards (STOTY) which are presented at the ASE (Association for Science Education) National Technicians Conference at the STEM learning centre on the University of York campus.

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Dr Forsey believes exercises such as pond dipping will enhance the learning experience, she says “STEM learning outdoors provides real world understanding and improves retention and attainment. What’s more, behaviour often improves, and a broader skill set is developed.”

Gratnells trays have become the system of choice for many STEM kit manufacturers, prompting the company to launch the new MakerSpace trolley. Standard Gratnells trays can be interchanged with fixed storage to transport materials and tools to a work area, with the unit also capable of being used as a stand-alone workstation; providing a focal point for collaborative working and a reliable resource centre for all types of project work.

This comes off the back of the recently launched all-terrain Rover trolley; a light-weight, ergonomic and easy to manoeuvre unit with integral straps that ensures objects remain secure during transportation (even when full).

Last year, Gratnells published Enhancing the Learning Environment, a 60-page hardback book that references learned sources from Dr Maria Montessori to Sir Ken Robinson and includes a number of sections devoted to STEM subjects while quoting the eminent professor, philosopher and communicator Marshall McLuhan “Education must shift from instruction to discovery – to probing and exploration.”

International Marketing Director, Richard Picking, says the business itself is a committed STEM employer. “We offer STEM careers and work environment, with CAD design, robotic programming, metal fabrication, chemical formulation and work flow optimisation. We also run a successful apprentice programme, working with prospective engineers at a school stage. We fully endorse the CBI’s call for greater emphasis on STEM subjects and we believe children are never too young to be encouraged down that path.

We have made it part of our mission to contribute to this process, across the whole of the STEM syllabus.  Of course, providers to the education sector have a stake in its success but we also recognise a wider responsibility to contribute to the lives and careers of our children.  When you make STEM subjects fun for young learners, it’s an investment for the future.”

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