In a recent survey of STEM businesses in Aotearoa, 79% of respondents were concerned about skills shortages in their industry. This reflects the struggle that businesses are facing to fill skilled STEM jobs. And the gap between the supply of home-grown STEM talent and demand is only growing.
Community engagement may offer a solution. Over 88% of respondents thought that engaging with communities, especially to increase STEM awareness and skills, was important for their industry.
Here’s why community engagement matters for your organisation.
1. Grow STEM skills and capabilities
We need to invest now to increase STEM capabilities in young people, so they can be part of our future workforce. Your organisations’ expertise and professional role models can help enhance STEM teaching. Community engagement brings real-world experience into the classroom and builds students' skills and capabilities.
2. Build science capital in your community
Students cannot be what they cannot see. “Science capital” refers to the exposure that a person gets to scientific concepts and their idea of what science is. The more science capital students have, the more science literate they become, and the more likely they are to choose a science-based career. STEM professionals build science capital in the community by being role models and sharing their knowledge.
3. Recruit, develop and keep your employees
Nearly 70% of employees say they wouldn’t work for a company without a strong purpose. Through community engagement, businesses can show their commitment to supporting wellbeing and growth that goes beyond the financials. Plus, it’s great for employee development. Employees can gain invaluable skills like teamwork, communication, and project management. They also report feeling joy in being able to give back to their communities. This leads to greater employee satisfaction and a more positive workplace culture.
4. It’s good for business
Sustainable or social procurement policies are on the rise. Clients are choosing organisations that not only deliver good service but also provide valuable social, economic, environmental and cultural outcomes. Community engagement offers many ways to support these outcomes. For example, by providing job and training opportunities or assisting local environmental projects. Community engagement can be an impactful way to advance an organisation's goals for sustainability, diversity and inclusion and CSR. “Ticking” all these boxes not only does good - it’s also good for business.
So, what are businesses doing?
There are many ways that businesses get involved in STEM community engagement. Unsurprisingly, our survey showed that the most common initiatives were school talks, careers fairs, tertiary events and internships. These may seem like good value-for-money because you reach a lot of students with little effort. Internships and tertiary events also provide a more direct return on investment as you are supporting future graduates.
But, these popular initiatives generally only target older students. And many of them may already have an interest in STEM. Our research shows the majority of engagement effort targets only a small percentage of students.
We need to engage earlier and deeper, to get more students interested in STEM from a younger age.
Research shows the biggest impacts, for students and businesses, come from authentic, long-term partnerships built on shared objectives and clear communication. These partnerships empower students to explore STEM in a context that is relevant and engaging to them. It enables every participant to share and create knowledge together.
Meaningful engagement takes effort. 65% of respondents in our survey said that they would like to do more community engagement. But they are constrained by time, lack of resources or other work priorities. Meanwhile, many STEM education providers are struggling due to limited funding and a reliance on volunteers.
This is where STEM businesses can play their part. Community engagement is a great opportunity. But it needs investment (of time, money and resources) to enable greater collaborations and achieve truly impactful outcomes. Is your organisation ready for the challenge?
At STEM Alliance Aotearoa, we support businesses and educators to build connections and maximise the value of every community engagement investment.