A recent report commissioned by the Coastal West Sussex Partnership found that young people shy away from careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as they think they ‘aren’t clever enough’.  Its a myth that you have to be ‘brainy’ and that only the highest achievers can study these subject.  Science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, at all levels, opens the door to huge numbers of career opportunities.

Perhaps it’s the stereotypical view of scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians, beavering away in their labs, brows furrowed, solving answers to some of life’s hardest questions that makes our young people feel as though a career in STEM is out of reach and ‘too brainy’ for them. In fact, only 18% of boys and just 12% of girls in our region aspire for a career within sciences – leaving a wide skills gap, that needs to somehow be bridged for our area’s economy to cope with demand and prosper.

With our report finding that our next generation are turning their backs on their potential because they just don’t feel ‘clever enough’, it’s not only worrying for the economy but also concerning that many young people lack confidence in their own abilities.

Here at the CWS Partnership, we’ve been working with schools, Further Education and Higher Education institutions to promote relevant and innovative skills programmes and employment pathways (including apprenticeships) that encourage our young people that they can thrive in a STEM-based career.

Caroline Wood, Director of the CWS Partnership is regularly asked ‘why is STEM so important?”. The answer is simple: we need these skills for our economy to grow. Coastal West Sussex has a large number of businesses that rely on STEM related skills, including pharm-bio, horticulture, creative and connected digital technologies, and advanced engineering, however, nearly half (46%) of working age CWS residents do not hold a qualification at Level 3 or above, and 16% of the region’s business cite  lack of ‘engineering/technical’ skills as their main recruitment challenge.

Unless we work hard to inspire the next generation that a career within STEM (and this could potentially include Art subjects – STEAM) is within reach, this percentage is likely to grow – meaning that businesses will struggle to grow and compete in a fast changing business environment, impacting the economy.  Or the businesses will recruit from elsewhere, by-passing local residents who want to live and work in the area that they grew up in and love. Add to this experts suggesting that up to one in five jobs will be at risk of automation by 2030, you can see why there is a need to act now.

We also want to make STEM fun – after all, if a student can engage with a subject, they’re more likely to be inspired and consider the possibilities and options of a career within that field. One way we’re doing this is with our yearly Big Bang events, at Butlin’s Bognor Regis.

Over the last three years, these events have become more and more popular with 2018 seeing over 550 young people from primary and secondary school getting involved! These days include interactive hands-on activities (my personal favourite had to be seeing the dust mites), from the region’s employers and national groups to show our young people science in the real world, rather than just from a textbook or in a classroom.

It is only by investing in our young people and giving them the skills – and confidence – they need to thrive that we will be able to raise the economic performance of the coast.

I hope that some of the hundreds of students who came to Big Bang and the thousands currently in school across Coastal West Sussex, will be the engineers and technologists of tomorrow and not think they’re not ‘clever enough’ to do a fantastic job. It’s by creating high-skilled jobs and providing high-level education that we will bring prosperity to the area.

So, if you think you’re not ‘smart enough’ to take maths or science for GCSE, A-level and beyond, please do think past the cliched ‘mad professor’ and open your eyes to the world of opportunities that these subjects can offer you – you really are ‘enough’ and can do anything you put your mind to.

For organisations who would like to get involved with our Coastal STEMfest then please email: caroline.wood@coastalwestsussex.org.uk.