The Dunnhumby co-founder says it’s vital that a new culture which embraces science and technology is rooted in our education system as well as wider society
My key idea: For Britain’s economy to fully prosper, and for our national ambition to be safeguarded, a shift in our conception of science, technology, engineering and maths (aka STEM) subjects is urgently needed.
Britain became the first country in the world to teach coding as part of the national curriculum last year. Yet despite Britain having an ambitious approach to science and technology, we still foster a national culture in which STEM subjects play second fiddle to humanities.
In our increasingly digitalised global economy, the importance of a workforce equipped with relevant skills will be paramount. It is estimated that UK data equity alone, will soon be worth over £40bn annually to the UK.
But the importance of STEM skills extends wider than just the science and data industries. Conventional industries are also increasingly reliant on data, science and maths. In healthcare, for example, health groups are teaming up with the likes of Intel to study the data from patients’ wearable technology devices as a means of developing cures for cancer and Parkinson’s disease. In fashion, big data is being analysed as a means of predicting upcoming trends across the industry.
From pharmaceuticals to the retail and charity sectors, big data is overhauling how businesses typically operate. No longer is data about number crunching and spreadsheets – the degree of the nation’s innovation, growth and competitive advantage will depend on the extent to which we excel digitally and through science and maths.
This is why we must demonstrate to young people the relevance and applicability of these subjects to their future lives, whatever career they may want to pursue. This is precisely what we are seeking to achieve through the government-backed Your Life campaign, which I chair.
Young women especially – only 20% of whom make up students taking A-level physics – must be encouraged to pursue a career in STEM subjects.
All too often these industries are seen by girls as techy, geeky and more suitable to men. These are misconceptions that must be challenged.
This is why I have founded the What I See Project, a campaign that seeks to inspire that next generation of young women in their future careers via the medium of filmed interviews. Through the Project, women who have reached the peak of their careers – many from the worlds of science and technology – discuss the hurdles they have overcome and provide advice and inspiration to young women before they embark on their professional careers.
From the government, it is vital that a new culture which embraces science and technology is rooted both in our education system and in wider society. With coding becoming part of the national curriculum, there’s no doubt that progress is being made, however much more can and must be done.
And from the private sector, all industries – even those not conventionally exposed to technology and science – must ensure their workforces are fully equipped to operate confidently in the digital economy.
Not every new maths or science student will become the engineer or programmer that UK companies are seeking. But our ambition must be to reshape fundamentally the way young people think about maths and science – and how it relates to their current and future lives. This broader ambition will both address the problem at root, and create untold benefits in the economy at large.
This is an excerpt from LondonLovesBusiness.com’s Securing Britain’s Ambition - read the full publication online now