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Bucking the trend and bringing more girls into STEM

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Published on 21 June 2019

: University of Sunderland Mechanical Engineering student Bethany Harrod
: University of Sunderland Mechanical Engineering student Bethany Harrod

UK businesses are currently looking to fill thousands of vacant STEM-related jobs.

With the situation around Brexit still unknown, the effect on the number of skilled workers from other EU countries remains an issue.

According to research from STEM Learning, the university-based and government-backed national organisation set up to provide STEM education and careers support, the UK industry is spending £1.5bn per annum on closing a shortfall last year estimated to be around 173,000 skilled workers.

Stem programmes at the University of Sunderland are working to play a role in addressing this shortfall.

This year International Women in Engineering Day is focusing on celebrating the outstanding achievements of female engineers. From debates and competitions to networking breakfasts and open days, events are being held across the UK this Monday.

Academic Dean of the Faculty of Technology at the University of Sunderland, Professor Alastair Irons, said: “The increase in girls studying STEM subjects is a trend we are keen to see continue – and accelerate.

“Through our work at the University and with our industry partners I’m confident we can address the current shortage. We have a series of interventions underway to challenge perceptions and address the gender imbalance.

“We’re beginning this activity before Year 9; encouraging girls to see the opportunities open to them if they choose computing and digital options at school.

“Then, as they progress towards higher education, we’re keeping the conversation open, hosting women-only university open events, giving female students the option of a guaranteed female personal tutor in their first year, giving students access to female industry mentors and offering post-grad programmes for women returning from a career break. We’re trying lots of different approaches – we have to rewrite the rulebook.”

The earlier that children - particularly girls, who still lag well behind boys in taking up STEM subjects at secondary school - are shown the fun side of engineering, the more likely it is to spark their long-term interest.

Encouraging more female students to take up STEM subjects and apprenticeships is another huge challenge for colleges and universities – just 8.2% of core STEM apprentices are women.

Sunderland student Bethany Harrod, 22, is among an increasing number of teenage girls and young women opting to take the STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – route into a high-paying career.

The Mechanical Engineering student, who graduates next month, said: “I guess, like a lot of people, my preconceptions of engineering were visions of men in overalls, covered in oil.

“Of course, the reality is very different. There are so many different avenues that a career in engineering can take you down. It’s an incredibly exciting and varied career.”