April 2020 Online Event

Date: 23 Apr 2020

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Milton Keynes festival to help bridge the STEM skills gap

Elizabeth Sheldon was a fitting speaker for Milton Keynes Business Leaders’ inaugural virtual event. In light of the current reliance on science and technology during the Covid-19 pandemic, the CEO of Evidence Talks discussed the next MK Innovates: a STEM Festival.

The UK has a current shortfall of 173,000 skilled STEM workers and 89% of STEM businesses are struggling to recruit, costing the sector £1.5 billion a year in recruitment, temporary staffing, inflated salaries, and additional training costs.

With businesses expecting the shortage to worsen over the next 10 years, with expansion in the sector set to nearly double the number of new STEM roles required, events such as MK Innovates: STEM Festival are vital to attracting a pipeline of new talent.

In a Zoom call with MKBLP members, Ms Sheldon commented: “We can no longer rely on our European neighbours to fill these roles, we need to produce home grown talent and we can’t wait until young people graduate, we need to attract them at a much earlier age.”

Now in its fourth year, the two-day event held at Middleton Hall is attended by a range of STEM businesses and higher education establishments. These organisations showcase a range of innovative exhibits to engage with visitors, including designing apps and mini computer programs and, last year, the opportunity to race a BRCA radio-controlled model around a racing track and get up close to a Red Bull Formula One car: “No two displays are the same. We want the festival to highlight the full breadth of STEM career opportunities open to people. And there is nothing more powerful than businesses showing children what they can do.”

While SEMLEP engage hundreds of local schools and colleges to attend the festival, the emphasis is also on adults looking for a career change: “I have had three careers, my first being a nurse, and the festival is designed to engage people of all ages, not just school leavers, and demonstrate to them the opportunities which are available to them if they want to forge a new career.”

Recognised as one of Milton Keynes’ outstanding women in business with several Women Leaders awards to her name, Elizabeth has also been honoured at the prestigious national CBI First Women awards, celebrated for her impressive achievements in the male-dominated field of science and technology. However, she believes that more needs to be done to encourage women to take up STEM roles.

“The lack of representation of women in STEM is a longstanding issue. MK Innovates: a STEM Festival is just one of a huge increase in initiatives geared around tackling this gap to positively affect the number of women choosing a career in STEM, however we still have a long way to go.”

“We need to promote the whole breadth of STEM across gender, ethnicity and academic divides to ensure Britain is at the forefront of STEM developments such as AI, robotics and digital ware.”

With the proposed STEM focused MK:U, and the Institute of Digital Technology at Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes is set to lead the way in STEM education – but the gap needs to be bridged to ensure this message is passed down so local businesses have the relevant skills required to compete in the future.

Ms Sheldon concluded by encouraging businesses within Milton Keynes to participate within the MK Innovates: a STEM Festival in any way possible.

The next MK Innovates: a STEM Festival will take place in 2021.

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