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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Employers, Young People (11-16) and STEM Education. Finding the Missing Link!

 1        A city in crisis?

The city of Birmingham is faced with a youth crisis. In 2011 almost 8% of 16-18 year olds in Birmingham were not in education, employment or enrolled on any training course (DfES, 2011). Currently, 20% of Birmingham’s young population (18-24 year olds) are claiming Job Seekers Allowance (BCC, 2013).Many studies such as the Heseltine (2012 access here  ) report have highlighted that experience of work is necessary within the education system to prepare young people for the world of work. In addition to this, a recent report by the Social Market Foundation (Broughton, 2013 )claim that there is a fundamental shortage of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) graduates in the UK which is set to increase in the future.

In January 2013 the Birmingham Employment Skills Board whose priorities are related to youth unemployment and improving the relationship between schools and employers (BESB Remit, 2012 ) commissioned a research project. It was in aid of exploring the relationship between secondary schools and employers when implementing work related learning. It also aimed to identify methods which would improve the relationship between the two parties. As of September 2012 the government eliminated the statutory duty to embed work related learning into the curriculum (Department for Education, 2013 ). Therefore, this project provided an early insight into the implication of this action.

The report identified that 90% of Birmingham schools had some form of engagement with employers in the city. However the main relationship was concerned with employers providing pupils with work experience. Outside of this there were very limited activities between schools and employers. Figure one below presents the different methods with which employers can contribute to work related learning within a secondary school.

Figure One

2       Employers and STEM in Schools

Whilst my report did not specifically explore the relationship of STEM employers and schools it did instead look at the broader picture which will be focus of this discussion. Some of the points raised from the report can certainly be applied to the teaching of STEM subjects at secondary school level. One of the key findings of the report was both employers and school and pupils benefit from increase employer engagement within the education process.

A report led by Intel (2011 access here ), highlighted that there is a level of disengagement within the education system for STEM related subject. This is partly due to the lack of applicability of STEM education to real life employment prospects. This in part, is related to the lack of engagement from STEM related industries within the education system.

Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths, subjects which area wrongly perceived in the UK just to be about learning facts (Intel, 2011) when I’m sure most of us acknowledge it most certainly is not. A recent news headline addressed a concern that the new science curriculum will stifle creative, reduce practical leaning and encourage memory based learning (The Independent, 2013 ). There is a need now more so than ever for employers to engage within the education process to display to students the opportunities and realities that studying STEM based subjects will provide.

I had many opportunities to interview various employers who possessed and interest in engaging with school yet did not do so on the basis that they prioritised other work activities.  Likewise, where teachers are bombarded with high workloads they also prioritise other activities that are compulsory. Subsequently, employers have virtually no relationships with schools and any relationships they may have are typically on the basis of personal contacts (i.e they have a son or daughter at the school). This was by far the biggest barrier!  So the question becomes what benefits to schools and employer gain from working with each other that would enable them to prioritise working with each other. Well to start, let me present a title page (Figure two) produced by a year seven pupil for my report demonstrating just how innovative young people can be.

3  Benefits for Employers

  • STEM engagement within schools can formulate as part of an organisation’s Social and Corporate Responsibility.
  • Employers can advertise and market their organisation and make young people aware of their existence.
  • Employers can develop engage with schools as an early recruitment method to develop interest in their organisation as a workplace.
  • STEM employers need to work with schools in order to increase STEM uptake within the education system or else the skills shortage will simply widen.
  • Employers can set projects for young people to complete in an area of study which they are interested in.
  • Employers can use engagement with schools as a tool to develop the skills of their own workforce

There are many different means with which employers can interact with schools. Schools need to open up their doors to allow employers in and dedicate a strategy specifically related to employer engagement. Should employers and educators increase their dealings, then we are one step forward to addressing the STEM crisis in the UK.

The key message I would like to outline with this blog is this employers have just as much to gain from interacting with schools. Employers can teach young people how to apply knowledge rather than just learn it. A most invaluable skill in any profession or subject!

By Yasmin Manzoor

Yasmin Manzoor

Yasmin Manzoor

Undergraduate at the University of Birmingham

BSc Geography with Urban and Regional Planning

Recently the EU published two major documents on Innovation within the EU. Firstly the 2013 Innovation Union Scoreboard (IUS) (download here)  which looks at EU and national performance on Innovation


and secondly the 2012 Regional Innovation Scoreboard (download here) which attempts albeit with fewer datasets to look at innovation performance within regions across the EU. So what does this show for the, EU, the UK and more specifically for the West Midlands.


Firstly it is probably worthwhile describing briefly what both documents attempt to do. They in effect piece together different sources of information to produce an overall index of innovation. There will be those amongst you who might wish to discuss the merits of the variables included and also the method of combining them into a single index. That discussion is however for elsewhere; this blog post takes these as read and looks at what these indices are telling us.

The IUS takes three broad ranges of statistics

  • ENABLERS – in effect inputs into the innovation ecosystem such as the number of doctoral graduates, higher  level education numbers, indicators related to publications and R and D expenditure by the public sector
  • FIRM ACTIVITIES – what firms are doing in terms of investment, collaborations and patents
  • OUTPUTS – what is coming out of the system including firms with new products/processes and no of high growth innovative firms plus its economic effects such as share of exports of medium and high tech products, patent revenues etc

It uses this data to place countries and regions into a series of broad descriptors which portray the level of innovativeness of the Country/Region.   It classifies countries and regions into four broad categories which are subdivided into three …making  twelve categories in total.

Innovation Leader     high/medium/low

Innovation Follower high/medium/low

Moderate Innovator  high/medium/low

Modest Innovators   high/medium/low


What the figures in these two documents show are that

For the EU and UK

  1.  The EU is closing the innovation gap on many other countries  e.g. the US     and Japan even in the current economic crisis.
  2. Within the EU however, after many years of convergence in Innovation performance, there is  a reverse in this trend with the leading countries pulling away from the less innovative countries.
  3. The UK, as the chart below indicates, is in the second tier of countries; we are deemed to be an Innovation follower medium,
  4. EU Member States PerformanceHowever the UK as the graph below shows has fallen back slightly in relative and absolute terms; most other leading countries have performed better since 2010 and many are pulling away from the UK.
  5. It is perhaps coincidental but the slip in UK performance coincides with the closing of England’s Regional Development Agencies. The RDA’s used to be well resourced to lead on promoting innovation at regional level in England.

Summary Innovation Index

What do the figures say for the West Midlands and UK Regions?

The West Midlands’ performance has slipped back. In 2007 the West Midlands was an Innovation follower medium but now is an Innovation follower low. Given the range of statistics available it is hard to pick out exactly why the region has been downgraded. Two key factors may explain it; the share of employment in medium/high tech manufacturing and the knowledge sector relative to other regions has fallen significantly in the West Midlands and secondly and similarly the sales of new products.

It is interesting to compare the West Midlands absolute position compared to a geographically close comparator region. In comparing the West Midlands with the North West – a more highly rated region (which is an innovation follower high) the clear difference lies in two key factors.


The West Midlands has significantly less public and private R and D expenditure and whilst the West Midlands marginally leads on a number of factors it is this lack of investment that is pulling the region down.

What is also interesting is the two tier nature of the UK with the South East and the East of England being deemed to be Innovation Leaders significantly in front of other regions. The chart below looks at the positions over time and it is clear that the recession hit most regions but what is equally clear is that whereas with many other regions there has been a bounce back; that is yet to happen in the West Midlands.

RIS Chart

The West Midlands and the North East are now the two lowest English regions.

Implications for the UK and the West Midlands

There are a number of implications from these figures.

It is clear that the UK could be an Innovation Leader if it could increase performance outside the hot spots of the East of England and the South East. The Technology Strategy Board’s Business Innovation Strategy (download here), whilst being highly valued has no geography at all in it. Therefore one lesson from these statistics is that Innovation should not solely be run nationally; it needs to add on a regional and local level and therefore  it is welcome that the UK Government is planning for the new EU funds in England to be largely steered at LEP level. A significant portion of these funds either directly or indirectly will focus on Innovation.

The West Midlands obviously has an issue with innovation and doesn’t perform as well as it could. It will be important to ensure that these EU (and single pot) resources are spent wisely; that LEP strategies on Innovation and sector/cluster development are not drawn up in isolation. The good work of Birmingham Science City and West Midlands European Service in seeking to develop such coherence is to be welcome. There is also a real need to more fully understand our strengths and weaknesses and to draw up co-ordinated actions to target barriers. So for instance why is it that the North West gets more public and private R and D expenditure – we need to delve deeper!

Greater thought also needs to be focussed on what other countries and regions do well. So transnational projects like Making Knowledge Work,  Science Park Without Walls , Cross Innovation and the fairly recently announced  Complex Challenges, Innovative Cities project amongst a large number of such projects are important; but we need to collectively draw out, discuss and importantly publicise the lessons from these. There needs to be a forum and a drive for such open and honest discussions.

There is also a need to build on and exploit our strengths such as the network of Science Parks and our many Universities.   David Hardman (CEO of Birmingham Science Park)  in a blog post last year  indicated there was a need for greater joining up in the innovation infrastructure in Birmingham and the West Midlands.   Given the lack of performance as evidenced by these reports this seems a valid viewpoint. There is a real need for a step change in the approach to innovation in the West Midlands. To deliver this therefore the LEPs clearly need to work closely together and Birmingham Science City should play a leading role in this.

 Patrick Willcocks                                                                                                                                              Director of EUPA Consulting Ltd                                                                                                                                                            


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