Stemming the STEM crisis – PR has a role to play
When I decided that PR was the job for me, tech was the last sector I expected to end up in. I had very little interest in technology beyond Chuckie Egg on the ZX Spectrum, and my entire education was arts rather than science focused. However, the only PR interview I was offered was at a tech PR agency. I hoped that if I got the job and some experience I could move into a PR area that was more interesting. I am not sure what I thought that would be given that my PR internship involved packing up tins of custard!
Fortunately, I was completely wrong, tech was nothing like I expected it to be and I was hooked. I was lucky to join the industry at the right time – one of my first clients was in Internet commerce (as it was called back in the day). At the time there was only one shared Demon internet address for the whole agency and we couldn’t comprehend just how big the Internet would be. Fortunately, innovative thinkers from Boston and California that realised the potential. The house of the future that was a theory in the late 90’s is now a reality, personalised medicine is available to some, and our cars can now run off batteries.
So, if innovation is accelerating and we are seeing progress in areas that were just a theory when I graduated, is Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine (STEM) a more appealing career avenue to today’s students? It is certainly covered more regularly by the mainstream media, but it seems that STEM is not able to attract the recruits it needs to make the progress we are all hoping for. The recruitment shortfall predicted is huge and the industry is searching for innovative ways, such as getting sport involved, to attract people to STEM. Longer term, we all need to find ways to make STEM more attractive and ensure young people don’t favour the arts at key decision points in their education.
I took my children to the Cheltenham Science Festival earlier this month, and was impressed with the effort universities and companies are making to attract young people – the amount of interactive STEM experiences available was incredible. From engineering and 3D printers – where visitors were actually encouraged to attempt to break the output – to the chemical reactions involved in making slime, to GCHQ’s virtual reality challenge, STEM organisations were going all out to attract to potential future recruits. Hopefully my children will still find STEM appealing in five years’ time when they get to GCSEs rather than discovering in their twenties as I did. If, like me, you left it too late to do a proper STEM job you can still help promote its importance to businesses, industry bodies, young people, and consumers. If you’ve been in PR a while but fancy making a change that means you learn something new every day, then come and talk to us – it’s never too late! Our clients are mostly in tech but we also are heavily involved in topics such as drug discovery, solving engineering challenges, and addressing green issues like the plastics problem.
P.S. When I visit the literary festival do expect a blog from me saying how much I love writing and wish that I could write a book but at the moment I’m ‘all in’ on science!