Countdown to Change
Raytheon UK exec: Scotland's tech future depends on STEM education today
Scotland’s industrial base, government and universities must work closely to support math and science education and strengthen its pipeline of talented tech workers, a top Raytheon UK official told educators and business leaders at a recent conference.
Raytheon UK is among many companies dealing with a shortage of scientists, technologists and engineers in an age where demand for those occupations is running high.
“We are not getting enough people with STEM backgrounds through our doors, despite the high and growing demand,” said Stephen Doran, who leads the company’s Power and Control business in Glenrothes. “Collectively, we need to close the skills gap and provide the expertise required for the economic future of Scotland.”
Doran’s remarks came during a panel discussion at the Scottish parliament’s STEM Scotland 2016 conference, held at Our Dynamic Earth. Raytheon was a key sponsor of the event as part of its worldwide effort to promote education in science, technology, engineering and math.
In Australia, for example, Raytheon has partnered with Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre on a number of programmes including “Imagination Factory,” a hands-on exhibition that explains the principles of systems integration by showing students how things work together. And in the United States, Raytheon sponsors robotics competitions and the International Rocketry Challenge, mentors middle-school students and last year launched a partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America to build technology-driven “Centers of Innovation” at clubs that serve high populations of military families.
In the UK, Raytheon offers engineering apprenticeships, graduate leadership programme positions in engineering and in-house training initiatives. The company also supports STEM-related programmes in primary schools, secondary schools, universities and colleges. Further efforts include Raytheon UK’s sponsorship of the annual Cheltenham Science Festival and its national Quadcopter Challenge for schools to build and fly fully operational four-bladed quadcopters.
“Our STEM initiatives are crucial to grow talent as well as maintain the long-term pipeline of resources in our company and industry,” Doran said. “Industry at all levels, academia and government must work collaboratively to create the right environment for the UK to prosper, and we must exploit our competitive advantage in order to drive overseas trade growth as well as inwards investment into the UK.”
Raytheon has a legacy of investing in people, skills and innovation in Scotland. For example, the company has developed advanced technologies in semiconductors and high-temperature silicon carbide at its at its £3.5 million Silicon Carbide Foundry.
That technology allows for smaller, lighter electronics to operate in harsh environments, and it promises to deliver major benefits to the aerospace, automotive, oil and gas industries, as well as other sectors. It also opens new global export markets and employment opportunities to the Scottish economy, where manufacturing accounts for about 60 percent of exports.
But to develop those types of technologies in the future will require a new generation of industry-leading scientists and engineers. And in Scotland, they are in short supply.
In 2015, there was a 4-percent decline in secondary school pupils in Scotland sitting Scottish Highers exams in physics, chemistry and math. And with both primary and secondary schools facing serious underfunding in science teaching – and those establishments finding it difficult to recruit teachers of STEM subjects – the need for change is urgent.
This crisis is not unique to Scotland. The non-profit Science, Engineering, Manufacturing and Technologies Alliance reports that the UK is graduating about 90,000 STEM graduates every year – well short of the 160,000 per year it needs. This bears true to a report from the Campaign for Science and Engineering that although STEM graduates are highly sought after by employers, up to 40 percent of STEM-related jobs are left unfilled due to the lack of qualified candidates. And a recent survey conducted by CBI revealed 30 percent of employers have experienced a shortage of STEM-qualified technicians.
Attracting women to STEM-related jobs has also proven difficult. In Scotland, 27 percent of women graduates in STEM work in the sector they qualified in, compared with 52 percent of male graduates, according to the UK Resource Centre, a government-funded organisation that focuses on the shortage of women in science, engineering and technology. Highly- qualified women either leave the STEM sector early on in their careers or, where they stay, are under-represented in top positions, according to a 2012 report by The Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Amid all those difficulties, however, there are some encouraging signs, said Sinead O’Donnell, who heads human resources for Raytheon UK’s Power and Control business.
“We’re seeing a growing trend of schoolchildren opting out of the traditional university career route into engineering,” O’Donnell said. “There are many entry routes within our organisation and we recently introduced an apprentice programme in Scotland. We are keen to dispel the myth that university degree level entry is the only option.”