THE BLOG

Business Leaders: It's Up to Us to Help Find More Great STEM Teachers

13/02/2014 14:00 GMT | Updated 15/04/2014 10:59 BST

Recent positive news about the UK economy has been incredibly welcome. Britain is back growing and working. And the positive news on our education system, announced in last month's school leagues tables, proves that Britain is learning too. More schools are meeting government targets and our country's talented and dedicated teachers are creating a brighter future for many young people. But we are failing the next generation until all young people have the opportunity to secure a successful future for themselves and our country. The business community can change all this.

Last month after 35 years in industry I was delighted to become Chair of the charity Teach First. And I've joined at an exciting time, with the fortunes of six Teach First teachers being the subject of the acclaimed BBC Three documentary Tough Young Teachers.

As a business leader I have been convinced for many years that the most important strategic priority for the nation is the education of its young people. I passionately believe that business has a duty, a responsibility and a great opportunity to support our schools and to help more young people to succeed.

And tonight, as the final episode of Tough Young Teachers airs, I am thrilled that I will be joined by the Mayor of London and 100 of the country's top business leaders to discuss how together we can rise to this challenge and give every young person a chance to succeed for themselves and for our economy.

Many businesses have already grasped this opportunity and have seen the importance of developing the next generation of talented employees. Organisations like Deloitte have taken up this challenge, committing to improve social mobility and access to professional jobs for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. They are raising aspirations, signposting access routes to employment and are supporting and mentoring young people who would never normally know how to access these careers. But more needs to be done, a great deal more.

As a business community, surely one of our greatest priorities is addressing the growing skills crisis we face in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). Many of the jobs of the future will be in rapidly developing industries, such as advanced manufacturing, life sciences and green energy, for which mastery of STEM subjects is key. It's estimated that, each year, the economy needs around 104,000 graduate-level jobs in STEM-based subjects. But, at present, we've a shortage of 40,000 young people graduating in these subjects every year. This is a fundamental strategic issue as our ability to compete internationally is becoming relatively weaker at an alarming rate.

This crisis will not be solved in laboratories or factories, it will be solved in classrooms. If we can raise aspirations and instill passion for these subjects in children, and give them the confidence to succeed, we will increase the numbers pursuing STEM studies at university and into the workplace. Only talented STEM teachers can spark pupils' imaginations and guide them to success. Only teachers can reverse a worrying trend that saw nearly a quarter of all pupils in 2011-12 not even attempting a science GCSE - a problem that's exacerbated in schools that serve low-income communities, which suffer from a debilitating shortage of STEM teachers.

We know that this crisis can be solved in classrooms provided as businesses we step up to our responsibilities to enable the solution. Tonight, I hope 100 of the country's top business leaders will all pledge to support Teach First in our efforts to accelerate the recruitment of STEM teachers.

Businesses can create opportunities for their staff to coach pupils from disadvantaged communities, and can give these pupils access to their businesses to excite them about the possibilities of a STEM career. Companies such as Citi, Bloomberg, BP and Accenture are already engaged in solutions to this crisis, and should be congratulated for doing so. But there is an urgent need for many more businesses to ask themselves what more they can contribute. Every member of the business community can play a role in championing the untapped pool of talent amongst our children. There is no better way of ensuring that every business and the country remains globally competitive far into the future.

@TeachFirst