New strategy will help STEM tide of underachievement in key disciplines

Gerard McMahon

By Gerard McMahon, Esh Construction’s regional director for Scotland

IT’S clear that in the future Scotland will need many more people working in jobs linked to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Our country’s digital technology sector keeps growing, while renewables represent a massive burgeoning industry, and we boast one of the biggest scientific communities in Europe.

For renewables alone, our country is seeking to generate the equivalent of 100% of Scotland’s gross annual electricity consumption by 2020 and we have already met the 50% interim target. Our continued growth is heavily dependent upon us developing our future workforce, and the science-based subjects are key for these sectors.

It was fantastic therefore to see Holyrood unveiling a new framework allowing our country to forge a reputation for further excellence in STEM subjects across the next five years.

This excitingly ambitious strategy has outlined actions designed to inspire enthusiasm for STEM among all sectors of society, providing a platform for achieving full potential in the four key areas.

With the Scottish Government now firmly behind the push for greater educational engagement and attainment across the core STEM disciplines, it can only aid and enhance our company’s own Added Value initiatives as we increasingly look to a high-tech, low carbon future for construction.

Indeed, the government measures – which include strengthening the delivery of STEM education and ensuring the development of skills that meet employers’ needs – mirror what we as a business have been saying for some time. 

Since 2016, Esh Construction has been delivering a range of interactive tools and props, known as STEM kits, to schools with the aim of positively shaping career aspirations from an early age. In fact, within the last 12 months, the kits have been deployed in 70 schools and used by over 3,000 students.

Youngsters have learnt about the core subjects in a series of workshops designed to educate and inspire the designers, builders and engineers of tomorrow. Each kit includes construction-related books, toys and materials which support four student exercises – wall building, using ratios, measuring, and designing a structure.

Moreover, the kits support key learning outcomes including dexterity, fine motor skills, numeracy, art & design, literacy, physical development, understanding of the world and communication.

With Holyrood now firmly outlining its ambitions for Scotland to become a ‘STEM nation’, Esh Construction feels that it is perfectly aligned with aims to establish a network of specialist STEM advisors for schools.

We are completely behind plans to improve the supply of STEM talent to the teaching profession, to prioritise STEM in the expansion of apprenticeships, and deliver up-to-date advice and information on related careers.

Esh Group was last year named the winner of the UBS Award for Education at the Responsible Business Awards, and was this year recognised with the Queen’s Award for Enterprise.

Time and again, we see the huge enjoyment that school children get from our kits, allowing them to gain valuable hands-on knowledge and skills – so why not extend STEM further to meaningfully capitalise on the job opportunities that our nation’s workforce is currently missing out on?

With Scotland, like so many other countries, continuing to suffer a skills shortage in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, initiatives like this can only help to promote the topics in a fun and interactive way, sowing the seeds of future skills – and ultimately, economic prosperity.

Indeed the common shortage across many countries means that if we can grow STEM in Scottish schools, we will reinforce our position of being one of the leading scientific communities in Europe.

STEM is also a fantastic approach to tackling the construction industry’s ongoing gender imbalance, encouraging hands-on experience from an early age and breaking down the myth that some subjects are only of interest to boys. Girls are of course every bit as competent in these areas as their male counterparts, and STEM can provide the vital spark that ignites a lifelong passion with hugely positive knock-on effects for our industry. 

STEM will continue to be a huge focus for Esh Construction, alongside our other key deliverables for Scotland, including a sustained emphasis on social housing amid an ongoing national shortage.

We see all of it as informing and defining our status as a responsible ‘Added Value’ developer as we aim to invest in the communities where we work and make a difference to local people of all ages – whether that’s young couples looking to start families, or children making their first vital steps towards a future career.