Julie James, Minister for Skills and Science
Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) skills in our young people are vital for their future success, and to provide Welsh businesses with the skills they need. The UK has a shortfall of STEM workers (69,000 every year) and businesses will be increasingly dependent on STEM skills in the future. People with STEM skills are therefore in demand and have good long-term career prospects.
Girls outperform boys across most GCSEs – more so in STEM than other subjects – but many more boys go on to further study science, technology, engineering and maths. Consequently, women are significantly under-represented in the STEM workforce – in 2016 only 21% of those working in core STEM occupations are women. If we want the best possible future for our country, we need to be using the talents of the whole population.
The Welsh Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Julie Williams, commissioned an independent task and finish group to provide us with a report on how we can increase the number of women working in STEM in Wales. ‘Talented Women for a Successful Wales’ makes recommendations for action on how we can:
- make the study of STEM subjects relevant and rewarding for girls
- recruit more women into STEM
- retain women in the STEM workforce
- encourage women into leadership roles
The Welsh Government has accepted all 33 of the recommendations in the report, 2 of which are specifically for the Welsh Government to action:Talented women for a successful Wales
- The Welsh Government should make improved gender balance in STEM a theme in educational policies and programmes for teacher training, curriculum reform, careers advice, apprenticeships and further and higher education funding.
- The Welsh Government should review its support for childcare and consider how it can further support a wider range of parents with the costs of childcare – with the long-term aim of developing an offer of high-quality early childhood care and education.
The majority of the recommendations are for schools, universities and STEM businesses in Wales to action, with the Welsh Government ‘advising, encouraging and facilitating’ where appropriate.
The Welsh Government’s ‘STEM in Education and Training: A Delivery Plan for Wales’ (2016) outlines our commitment to improving the participation of girls in STEM. The Welsh Government’s Education Directorate is prioritising girls’ progression in maths, physics and computing, and has made gender balance in STEM education a condition of grant funding. However, more can be done to understand the issues affecting girls’ progression in STEM, and how practice in schools can have a positive impact. This is being addressed in our programme of education reform.
We are also committed to providing 30 hours of free early education and childcare to working parents of 3 and 4 year-olds across Wales for 48 weeks of the year. This is the most generous childcare offer in the UK, giving parents – in particular, women – more choice and a greater ability to have both a family and a career.
The Chief Scientific Adviser is setting up an internal working group to take forward the recommended actions in the report, involving policy officials from across the Welsh Government, and reporting to Ministers.
I am sponsoring a WISE (women in science, technology and engineering) event in the Senedd on 13 March 2017, with WISE’s patron HRH The Princess Royal in attendance. The event will celebrate and promote the value of women in STEM in Wales and build momentum around the recommendations in the report. WISE Chair, and inspirational female role model, Trudy Norris-Grey of Microsoft, will be sharing her personal story ‘From Swansea to Seattle’ to inspire the young people present.