Exploring the Engagement of STEM SMEs with Education: Key findings research summary

Jennie Harland, Suzanne Straw, Anneka Dawson, Eleanor Stevens

01 August 2012

This report summaries the findings of a study exploring the engagement of STEM SMEs with education, which NFER completed for STEMNET in August 2012. The research included a rapid top-level review of evidence and telephone interviews with 53 SMEs from across a range STEM sectors and located across the UK.

The research concluded that there is willingness and interest amongst SMEs to engage, or engage more frequently, and that there is a need to raise awareness of the support available, the opportunities to engage (e.g. established schemes) and the benefits of engagement. Smaller SMES can offer beneficial experiences but need greater support and encouragement to engage.

Key Findings

  • employer engagement with education is a fairly common activity
  • there is a relationship between size of business and the extent of engagement; smaller businesses are less likely to engage, and to engage on a more ad-hoc basis and with a narrower range of activities, often due to the lack of dedicated HR staff
  • the most common types of engagement are: links with universities and colleges; offering work experience; and involvement in specific schemes and projects (e.g. STEM Ambassadors, Young Enterprise)
  • there are a range of benefits to employer engagement in education including: enhancing the skills’ pipeline and recruitment to the sector; staff professional development and increased enjoyment and motivation; promoting the company’s image; capitalising on young people’s ideas; and the opportunity to ‘give something back’
  • businesses face a range of challenges in engaging with education including: time, capacity and financial constraints; low awareness and understanding of schemes and how to link with education; difficulties in engaging schools; health and safety constraints and bureaucracy; low awareness of the benefits of engaging; and difficulties in appropriately pitching activities and relating them to the curriculum.
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