JOHN DALY: Much more to do if STEM is to be a game-changer

The importance of STEM — science, technology, engineering and maths — is a well established fact of modern life, writes John Daly.

Already accepted in mainstream education as a pre-eminent source of future employment and careers, the penny has also dropped amongst adults as to its gathering consequence for the generation of tomorrow.

Research carried out for Science Foundation Ireland’s Tech Week, earlier this year, showed the vast majority of Irish adults, over 89%, now believe that getting an education in STEM- related subjects is important in offering wider career opportunities in the future.

As we forge ahead into an imminent world of robotics, drones, self-driving cars and virtual reality, almost three-quarters surveyed welcomed this new age built upon STEM innovations.

“Just over a decade ago, we didn’t imagine many of the jobs that now exist today through technology,” according to Jim Friars, chief executive of the Irish Computer Society.

“The message we want to communicate is that STEM-related studies will help you to improve and shape students’ future job prospects.”

He added that it is essential to ensure that an awareness of the myriad of opportunities that exist for females in technology-related disciplines is promoted.

“This should serve as a method of narrowing the gender gap and opening up new talent to employers while contributing to overall skills availability.”

In their central role at the coalface of providing graduate opportunities, third level institutions are witnessing, first-hand, the significant increase in demand for suitably qualified candidates.

“The demand for STEM graduates is booming,” according to Michael Loftus, head of faculty of engineering and science at the Cork Institute of Technology.

“Such is the level of requirement from industry, the major challenge currently facing the institute is how to produce more STEM graduates. STEM graduates feature at the top of the earnings list, with many of them securing employment long before completing their final examinations.”

Over 91% of CIT graduates find paid employment or enter further study within nine months of graduating.

I WISH is an initiative encouraging young women to pursue careers in STEM, supported by Science Foundation Ireland and which harnesses the combined power of industry, academia and the public sector.

“The world is facing incredible challenges in the next decade — over population, food shortages, urbanisation, climate change, ageing populations — and we know that the answer to all of these problems lies in STEM,” said I WISH co-founder Gillian Keating.

Donal Sullivan, site manager and vice president at Cork-headquartered Johnson Controls, believes the rate of gender change needs to swiftly increase to benefit future needs.

“We know that innovation spikes where there is balance across our male and female workforce, and we see the positive outcomes of that every day in our R&D, tech comms and IT organisations as well as in our wider business functions.

Brian MacCraith of DCU, and chairperson of the STEM Education Review Group, underlines the need for greater engagement to meet the necessary global standard currently established.

“The overall levels of performance in STEM subjects are not good enough if we aim to provide the best for our nation’s children, and to sustain our economic ambitions for the future.

“A step-change in STEM outcomes is required throughout the educational system if we are to move to optimum levels of performance,” he said.

Ireland needs to take an early and more rounded approach to fostering an interest among male and female students in STEM to remain competitive over the next decade, according to Mari Cahalane, head of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.

“We have long campaigned that STEM subjects are for everyone, and that it is not necessary to be an ‘A’ student to have a career in STEM. Ireland has an enormous opportunity as we are already seen as leading the way in innovative developments — but we need to foster an earlier interest in it amongst students.”



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