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Students think employers prefer higher grades over suitable subjects

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‘Tough Choices’ report reveals that an absence of good quality information and advice on job prospects for Maths and Physics skills skews young people’s A Level choices.

Nearly half of young people choose A Levels based on future career aspirations despite just 43 percent receiving any formal careers guidance. Without intervention the current STEM worker shortfall of 40,000 each year will grow, causing the UK to fall further behind other nations. Your Life and Carillion supported by the CBI, call for more businesses to forge better curriculum and careers links in response to findings

A significant knowledge gap on the vital and widespread application of Maths and Physics skills risks damaging the UK’s future, according to a new report developed by A. T. Kearney in partnership with the Your Life campaign and supported by campaign partner Carillion. The ‘Tough Choices’ report reveals that the low level of awareness amongst educators and parents about job prospects for Maths and Physics unintentionally results in young people not understanding the skills needed for success in the workplace. This creates a domino effect where UK employers are left reeling from a current 40,000 STEM worker shortfall despite the prediction that 7.1 million UK jobs will rely on science skills by 2030.

Carillion is supporting the Your Life campaign to try and increase engagement between business and schools to promote STEM education and safeguard the UK’s economic growth by limiting this skills shortage. In addition to supporting the Your Life campaign, Carillion has in place a number of dedicated skills and education programmes to ensure the business has the skills needed to succeed in a competitive global economy. A network group which supports women engineers in Carillion, SNOWE (Support Network for Operational Women Engineers), has created a tailor-made training module ‘Introduction to Technology and Engineering’ which it delivers in schools in the communities where Carillion operates.

Tough Choices is the UK’s first report to discover the causes behind the skills deficit and provides the nation with the opportunity to change the state of play. As a response to Tough Choices, Carillion is calling on more businesses to join the campaign and bring the boardroom to the classroom. The report reveals that currently 45 percent of young people claim to choose A Levels based on future career aspirations, but just 43 percent say that they have had any formal careers guidance.

This lack of informed advice is thought to lead to only a quarter of A Level students taking up two or more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects and only one in eleven studying Maths and Physics, despite 74 percent starting secondary school with high levels of interest. Tough Choices revealed the perception that employers and educators value high grades at A Level over good subject choices is resulting in more students being influenced to select subjects they expect to do well in rather than the perceived “harder” Maths and Science subjects.

Young people also cited that Maths and Science subjects are too theoretical, making it even harder for them to appreciate how the skills relate to their career prospects and further deterring them from studying at A Level. With so many students turning away from these subjects at ages 15 and 16, they are inadvertently closing the door to more than 50 per cent of jobs. Tough Choices reveals that the combination of all of these factors creates a ‘perfect storm’, meaning levels of engagement with vital STEM skills decline with every year of secondary education. [6]

The report advises that a better informed society and more active participation from the business community in education could curb the current STEM worker shortfall and prevent the UK economy from falling further behind other nations. [7] Carillion chief executive Richard Howson said: “We are a very diverse business. Our people design, build and maintain buildings and infrastructure projects which are a vital part of our lives. To deliver these exciting projects we need people with STEM skills. We are therefore committed to helping the next generation of engineers and construction experts understand the importance of studying STEM subjects at school. We also support teachers so they can show how the work they do in the classroom can help pupils go onto great careers.”

“We are pleased to support this new research from the Your Life campaign and back the call for more businesses and institutions to join us in improving the connection between the curriculum and careers advice.” Edwina Dunn, entrepreneur and Chair of the Your Life Campaign, commented: “Many students are unintentionally left without any knowledge of the skills and careers which follow from learning Maths and Physics. We must act now to reverse a multi-generational decline in STEM uptake in schools and empower young people to gain the skills to do incredible things and make a real difference to their own future and the future of the nation.

“It is our goal to help create an environment where Maths and Physics are the highlight of the school day for any student, through practical and innovative techniques which inspire and build confident, skilled young people.” Paul Dreschler CBE, CBI President, commented: “If the UK economy is to stay strong in the years ahead, then we need young people to get the right skills to build successful careers. A real grounding in science and maths is becoming increasingly important in many high-growth sectors and leads to even more opportunities for young people in the future. Education is a shared passion for government, business, schools and parents – who all want the best for young people – so we hope that the insights in this report will be helpful. As the business community we have a role to play – offering support to teachers and head teachers, inspiring young people and giving up-to-date insights into the world of work.’

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