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STEM Careers

Volume 611: debated on Thursday 26 May 2016

My Department has set an ambition for a 20% increase in girls’ entry to A-level mathematics and science by 2020. We fund programmes in schools and colleges to encourage young people to take qualifications in science, technology, engineering and maths, and to improve achievement in those subjects. Those working in science and technology careers are paid on average 19% more than those in other professions, so motivating girls to study those subjects is important if we are to eliminate the gender pay gap.

Nursing is now a graduate-entry profession, and STEM subjects form part of the course for student nurses. Once they qualify, student nurses take on the role of many junior doctors in prescribing medication and ordering investigations, so does the Minister agree that nursing is a STEM career to which young women, and indeed young men, should aspire?

I know about my hon. Friend’s own nursing background, and I agree that nursing is a fantastic career for young women, and indeed young men. We are committed to strengthening careers provision for young people across England, and projects funded through the Careers and Enterprise Company’s investment fund will do just that. She may be aware of a project led by Skills East Sussex that seeks to improve the work-readiness of young people, the take-up of apprenticeships locally, and the gender balance in key sectors.

Owing to ongoing cultural stereotypes and a lack of visible role models, many women do not realise the fantastic career opportunities that engineering and STEM subjects offer until they have left formal education. What is the Minister doing to ensure that routes are available for retraining older women, particularly through adult education and lifelong learning?

I agree it is important that we tackle perceived gender stereotyping or bias in certain careers. We have funded programmes in schools, and I have mentioned things such as the STEM Ambassador network. After that come apprenticeships—the Minister for Skills bangs that drum at every opportunity—and the opportunity for someone to earn while they are learning.

More young women entering Scottish universities are choosing to study science, technology, engineering and maths, and they now make up 48% of all those gaining degrees. Will the Minister look towards Scotland as an example of how to encourage more women into STEM subjects?

As I said in last night’s debate on the Gracious Speech, I spoke to the Cabinet Minister with responsibility for education in Scotland earlier this week. There are always ways in which we can learn from each other. I should mention Loughborough University, which I represent as a constituency MP, as it has the highest number of women engineering undergraduates in the country.

I recently visited the Thales site in Crawley and saw some wonderful high-quality engineering jobs; unfortunately, not enough of them are held by women. Will the Government heed the recent findings of the CBI that over 90% are not receiving the careers advice they need, and support face-to-face careers advice from age 11, which would assist more women to enter engineering careers?

I have been very clear since taking up the role of Secretary of State for Education that we need to look at careers guidance. That is why, in December 2014, we announced our backing for the Careers & Enterprise Company, which was set up to bridge exactly that gap between schools and colleges and the world of work. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that starting early is very important. I hope that he, along with all Members across the House, has spoken to his local enterprise co-ordinator, through the local enterprise partnership, to support the work of the Careers & Enterprise Company.