Esh Group offers free toolkits for local schools to stimulate interest in STEM among girls – and safeguard its industry against skills shortages in the future.
- It is estimated that 100,000 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) graduates are needed every year to meet demand
- 80 per cent of the demand for STEM graduates comes from the UK
- Construction sector is illustrative, where women represent just 11 per cent of employees
- Introducing STEM topics in an engaging, gender-neutral way to children at an early age is key
The UK is heading for a skills shortage. It is estimated that 100,000 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) graduates are needed every year to meet demand – and with the UK currently producing 80 per cent of that figure, there aren’t enough young people to fill positions needed in these sectors.
Part of that is down to the gender imbalance in STEM. Take the construction industry. With women representing just 11 per cent of employees, it’s the most male dominated business sector in the UK, missing out on a substantial proportion of the workforce.
In short, we need more people choosing STEM subjects, but especially more women. The answer? Introducing STEM topics in an engaging, gender-neutral way to children at an early age.
As one of the largest construction companies in the north of England and central and southern Scotland, Esh Group needs to develop its future workforce, tackling both the gender imbalance and lack of STEM skills in the industry.
Its Get into STEM programme provides free construction-related resources for schools where the firm operates, inspiring students to consider STEM subjects and careers.
Students meet positive role models with a 40-minute interactive presentation delivered by a member of Esh staff and for two weeks after, primary schools are loaned a construction themed kit – containing 30 different construction related books, toys and materials - for free. During this time, teachers can use the resources to engage other year groups.
Children are introduced to STEM through the story of Three Little Pigs, followed by a discussion about the materials used in the story. Students can try on protection clothing for some dressing up role play activities.
Educational career kits
The educational kits align with Early Years Foundation Studies and Key Stage 1 learning, and a third of schools used the kit for more than eight hours of independent play.
“ 94 per cent of teachers said the STEM kit encouraged students to think about careers. ”
Both male and female students are involved, with specific job roles not assigned to certain genders, removing the perception that construction is not a career for females.
“Children repeated back to their parents who were very impressed with their knowledge of the different jobs,” says Miss Justre Jorgensen, a teacher at St. Paul’s Primary School. “One child said she wanted to be an architect when she grew up.”
Take away sheets in each kit help raise parents’ awareness of STEM and include recommendations on how they can develop these skills outside of school.
So far, the kit has been given to more than 100 schools, including two special schools, engaging over 3,500 students – more than 1,000 of which were female. This is delivered completely free for the school, helping support a reduction in school budgets.
Most teachers (94 per cent) said the STEM kit encouraged students to think about careers.
Benefits are far reaching
It’s proving a cost-effective solution, and helping Esh build relationships in its communities – including building closer working relationships with clients to develop variations of the kit.
So, with client Northumbrian Water Group and engineering partner MWH, the Esh team created a variation to focus on the water cycle, water sanitation, transportation and consumption. With Newcastle Eagles and Leeds Force basketball clubs, the plan is to launch a sports science, health and physics kit later in the year.
The project has also raised brand awareness, with Esh winning the Civil Engineering Contractors Association Inspiring Education Award, a significant accolade from industry peers. And, of course, Esh is promoting a career in construction to its future workforce.
Finally, it has been good for employee morale with the programme, in which 27 employees have participated, receiving positive feedback and providing a good opportunity for personal development.