According to the minister of state for Research, Séan Sherlock, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education from primary school through to third level is essential for employment in Ireland’s current and future market. The Minister was speaking at the recent Career Zoo which was held in the Convention Centre in Dublin on September 14th.
He was at the Convention Centre to deliver a speech on ‘The value of investing in researchers in Ireland’ at an Irish Research Council meeting which happened to be held on the same day as the Career Zoo. On dropping into the career event, which is established as the biggest event in Ireland for graduates and professionals looking to further their career, the Minster said that rather than thinking about investing in research or in specific areas, we should remember that “investment is really in people and talent” and that highly skilled researchers were a result of good education and training.
Silicone Republic, a technology news service, interviewed the Minister at the Career Zoo and asked him about his thoughts on STEM education. Mr. Sherlock said that the government is placing a lot of emphasis and funding directly into STEM education and that incentives, such as the bonus points a Leaving Certificate student receives when taking an honours Maths paper, have been working well.
Acknowledging that a large proportion of foreign graduates are filling STEM based jobs in Ireland, the Minster said that while there will always be a transfer of labour between countries, the government is making efforts to fill that gap with Irish graduates. He admitted that the government still has a way to go in developing STEM education but that they had a clear focus and are listening to the needs of industries.
Mr. Sherlock also stated that more emphasis needs to be put on languages in education as industries have reported a lack in the language abilities of Irish graduates. He openly acknowledged that immigration of graduates is a problem and said that the government needs to find out the skill set of those graduates who are emigrating but also stressed that there are conversion courses available where someone working in the ICT sector can transfer their skills to help them to get jobs here in Ireland.
Mr. Sherlock also said that there has been a move away from long-term, pensionable jobs to people having a few jobs in the course of their working life and that the idea of lifelong learning and upskilling is ingrained in current and future generations. He also said that the government needs to give people the confidence to uptake new skills and new courses and create the platform for them to find opportunities for employment.
Referring to STEM education, Mr. Sherlock said that there needs to be greater interaction between the government and industries and that STEM education needs to be implemented at a national level and all through the education system, saying that his aim from a research point of view, is to provide 6 and 7 year olds with STEM based skills and show them how people interact with technology so that they can transfer this knowledge into post-primary and third level education.
He spoke about STEM education in Ireland as having three aspects; the educational, the immediate skill shortage and the long-term view and said he is confident that the government will be able to bridge the gap in terms of the immediate skills shortages but that they have work to do around STEM education and that industry has a clear role to play in this.
This year there was an increase in demand for Science and Business courses through the CAO so it looks like future graduates are already on the right track. There is also an array of courses available for anyone who wants to retrain, upskill or change careers in these areas, so if you are currently in this position, it could worth taking a look and checking out what STEM options are on offer near you.