We are “courting disaster” if we sit back and wait for the education system to produce the number of students skilled in STEM subjects that industry urgently requires, a senior executive at BAE Systems has warned.
Speaking last week at a primary school in London in advance of The Big Bang science and engineering fair for youngsters, BAE group managing director Nigel Whitehead said that targets for developing engineers would be missed if industry rested on its laurels. Engineering UK has estimated that hundreds of thousands of engineers and technicians will be needed in the next six years.
Whitehead, who was launching BAE’s schools roadshow for 2011, which will visit 250 schools engaging some 25,000 children, told PE: “If we deliver the right careers advice and take steps to make science and maths interesting at school, and if we keep our science and mathematics teachers apprised of what the current developments are, then there’s every reason we can achieve the sort of targets we need in terms of STEM subjects coming through the system.
“But if we just sit here today and imagine it’s all going to be alright, then we are courting disaster.”
Whitehead said there was already concrete evidence of the value of events such as the roadshows, which are in their sixth year, with the first youngsters who experienced them eventually entering employment with the defence giant. “We have found people who apply who say, ‘I’m applying to you because I witnessed your roadshow, it was fantastic and made me think about science, engineering and maths in a completely different way’. So we actually see the direct feedback – it isn’t a nebulous thing for us.”
But the roadshows were not there to serve as a recruitment tool purely for BAE, Whitehead said. “I’m not particularly worried whether the people we inspire today end up building bridges or building spacecraft, or building medical devices, or if indeed if they join us to build submarines or ships.
“The whole point is in inspiring the next generation.”
Last week’s Big Bang was attended by more than 26,000 youngsters. The show is moving to the Birmingham NEC from London’s ExCeL exhibition centre next year. BAE’s roadshows are hosted by the company’s robot character Brains. Workshops include a challenge to programme a Lego vehicle and one devoted to exploring how nature has inspired engineering innovations.