Young woman fixing computer at white table, girls in stem

By Amy Caton, Senior Programme Manager, BT Group

A New Year is often seen as a time for a fresh start with many setting new resolutions and goals for the year. For many young people it can also be a period of time to set career goals and work out the path forward or even looking into starting a new job or apprenticeship.

However, there are some young people for whom the route forward might not be as clear. According to government data, the percentage of young people aged 16-24 who were not in education, employment, or training (NEET) in July to September 2022 was estimated at 10.6%, up 0.2% from the previous quarter. While this is marginally lower than pre-pandemic levels over the same period, some additional factors should also be considered.

Employers across the board are still struggling to recruit candidates with the right skills. We need to ensure young people in the UK are not only considering STEM subjects as an essential part of their future planning, but we also need to ensure they understand how STEM subjects can teach them the skills to succeed in any career path they choose. With women making up only 24% of the STEM workforce it is particularly essential that we champion and encourage young female talent.

STEM gains at undergraduate level

From an academic perspective, we have made gains over the past few years. From 2010-2019 women’s and girls’ entry for STEM A-Levels increased by 31%, with female enrolment in STEM undergraduate courses also increasing by 50%. Whilst these stats show progress, they also highlight that we have a long way to go in diversifying the talent pool.

But what about young people who do not go on to further education or are unsure about their career path? What is the benefit for those individuals taking STEM subjects at GCSE level when they may neither want nor need to go to university to achieve their ambitions?

Making STEM applicable

Often, young women don’t have the benefits of STEM study presented to them in a more holistic fashion that is relatable and applicable to their needs. Teachers are under incredible pressure to demonstrate progress regarding the curriculum, and sometimes they don’t have the knowledge of other workplaces to present it to their students. Students also may not have the personal connections or knowledge at home to guide them.

BT Group’s purpose is to connect for good and we are committed to creating a bright, sustainable future. Part of this is ensuring that young people have the skills they need to build a future in the digital world.

One of the ways BT Group has been addressing this issue is through the BT Group Skills for Work Bootcamps. These are designed to help young people develop essential employability skills, with a particular focus on technology and data. Blending this with an individual’s interests we help them identify possible career paths and plan some next steps and goals.

We are also a founding partner of FastFutures, a part-time programme designed to support 18-24 year olds develop critical digital business skills. Over six weeks learners cover a range of topics including, digital marketing, data, finance, teamwork, and problem solving, and are supported by one to one mentoring to enable them to better stand out among the competition and launch their careers.

The role of employers

For BT Group and other organisations in similar sectors, there is another incentive to play a part in the solution; after all, these are the young people we need to attract to the industry to ensure our futures are sustainable and profitable. Whilst not all of those who do take STEM subjects at GCSE level will end up investing in them as part of further education, research has shown that early exposure to STEM subjects increases the chances of long term engagement. This can only be beneficial in helping increase the digital skills and diversify the talent pool.

Ultimately, it must be a joint effort to encourage young women to consider STEM subjects as a foundation for their future, regardless of their aspirations. As with all major societal issues, it’s not something one group or organisation can fix on its own. We have a duty to expand young people’s knowledge of the working world, broaden their horizons and help them develop the skills they need to thrive.