IOP event at Welsh Assembly puts focus on building STEM skills

19 January 2018

Finding ways to expand the STEM-skilled workforce in Wales was the focus of an IOP event held at the Welsh Assembly building – the Senedd – yesterday, where Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning Eluned Morgan praised the Institute’s work in taking initiatives out to young people where they are.

IOP event at Welsh Assembly puts focus on building STEM skills
Jonathan Dunn

She particularly paid tribute to IOP’s Lab in a Lorry programme – the mobile laboratory that tours schools across Wales – in bringing physics to students rather than expecting them to come into a centre. It was one of many initiatives by IOP and others to address the STEM skills shortage in Wales, where technology is increasingly important to the economy and matching skills to the STEM jobs available is crucial to the employability of workers, she said.

IOP event at Welsh Assembly puts focus on building STEM skills
Jonathan Dunn

IOP Chief Executive Professor Paul Hardaker also spoke about the importance of physics-based industries to the Welsh economy, where their Gross Value Added (GVA) per year is around £5.2 billion and GVA per person is £56,978 – double the productivity of the retail sector and higher than the average in the construction sector.

To fill the shortfall in STEM skills, schools played a central role, yet there were “more lions in Wales than primary school teachers with a physics degree”, he noted. It was imperative to step up teacher recruitment and retention and to encourage more young people, and particularly girls, to study physics. While Wales had seen an almost 4% increase in entries to A-level physics in 2017, there was still room for improvement in the proportion of girls taking the subject at A-level, which was 21.6% last year, he said.

In the context of Brexit, 22% of funding for Welsh physics departments comes from the EU (compared to the UK average of 18.8%) and 27% of professors are from non-UK countries in the EU, he noted. It would be important for the strength of physics in Wales to protect our staff and funding sources, he said.

IOP event at Welsh Assembly puts focus on building STEM skills
Jonathan Dunn

Professor Hardaker mentioned the importance of the compound semiconductor cluster to the Welsh economy, which is in the process of creating around 3000 jobs, and Wyn Meredith, managing director of the Compound Semiconductor Centre said there would be lots more jobs in the sector, which was great for Wales. He described how the technology was already being used in everyday life such as in LED lights and touch screen devices and said that it would be crucial for the future.

IOP event at Welsh Assembly puts focus on building STEM skills
Jonathan Dunn

A meeting of the Institute’s Council took place in Cardiff earlier in the day, and many of the IOP Trustees on the Council were able to come on to the evening event. IOP President Professor Dame Julia Higgins, who opened the evening, also emphasised the need for enough skilled workers to enable the physics-based sector to flourish.

IOP event at Welsh Assembly puts focus on building STEM skills
Jonathan Dunn

Physics outreach was highlighted by Science Made Simple founding director Wendy Sadler, who is also a lecturer and Schools’ Liaison Officer at Cardiff University. She described how she had loved being the Institute’s Schools and Colleges Lecturer for a year and underlined the importance of starting education about STEM careers early in primary schools, such as through the ASPIRES programme.

IOP event at Welsh Assembly puts focus on building STEM skills
Jonathan Dunn

Finally, Dr Edward Gomez, also a lecturer at Cardiff University and education director at Las Cumbres Observatory, entertained the audience by reading a story told from the perspective of a personified photon, taken from his book Ada’s Adventures in Science.



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