A 'FAILURE' to focus on STEM education will leave the country facing a skills shortage crisis in the coming years, experts are warning.

OPITO, a global not-for-profit skills and standards body for the energy industry, said not enough is being done to engage teachers and parents, warning that without more emphasis on STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - Scotland will struggle to "make good on its target for a renewable, net zero economy".

Andy Williamson, OPITO's senior vice president, yesterday warned futureproofing and recruiting the next generation workforce is going to be the biggest challenge ever faced by the energy sector.

While the focus continues to be on integration of STEM into schools and young people appreciating the importance and opportunities, more needs to be done to equip parents and teachers with the confidence to teach STEM, support with STEM home learning and provide positive influence for future careers within this space.

He said: “The energy mix in Scotland requires a huge range of new and existing skills and, while the North Sea Transition Deal and ScotWind are both underway and providing valuable and sustainable opportunities for the industry, we need to be looking ahead through the eyes of younger generations and asking what we can be doing now to ensure there is a pool of qualified and passionate people eager to enter the industry and make their mark on the energy transition.

“Insufficient time is dedicated to STEM within the academic year. We need consistent, regular touchpoints in school and there needs to be learning opportunities not only for young people, but for parents, teachers and carers to get involved too.

“Science centres across Scotland are helping to bridge the STEM skills gap and we are particularly proud of our work with Glasgow Science Centre. We currently have three campaigns underway with the team in Glasgow and they aim to engage not only young people in STEM but also to engage families in a fun and interactive way. Without family support, it will be a struggle to engage young people into the world of STEM.”

OPITO is currently supporting the Glasgow Science Centre with three projects; My Future Energy, Powering the Future, and is supporting a collaboration between Aberdeen Science Centre and Glasgow Science centre for curriculum approved materials called Learning Lab.

He added: “The aim of our campaigns with Glasgow Science Centre is to put in place measures to bridge the current skills gap and ensure young people are enthusiastic about STEM careers, understand the opportunities the sector offers and provide clear pathways into a career in STEM. Alongside that, our growing global ambassadorial network of young energy influencers are conveying a message that the integrated energy space is a fantastic place to be and is not necessarily the traditional career that people think it is.

“Digital solutions and smart technology are really starting to influence the way in which our future energy eco-system will operate and behave and that is exciting for young people”.

“Additionally, and importantly, these campaigns are aimed at making STEM subjects accessible for teachers. We are not expecting teachers to go into a science lesson with all the answers, but what we do need is teachers who know how to facilitate discussions on ideation, hypothesis and analysing results. At the core of the STEM principles is curiosity and in many ways that’s the magic ingredient – not equipping them with answers. We need to remember that many jobs of the future do not even exist currently”.

OPITO has an online resource centre, aimed at young people aged 14 – 18, called ‘My Energy Future’ which is supported by Glasgow Science Centre’s ‘My Future Energy’ programmes. The online hub explores a range of topics including environmental issues, technology, opportunities and the energy mix of the moment and of the future. The resources are promoted by a range of volunteer energy influencers from a cross section of sectors including hydrogen, renewables and oil and gas.

OPITO has also partnered with Glasgow Science Centre to develop the ‘Powering the Future’ mobile exhibition that is aimed at young children and facilitates workshops and school visits to put focus on STEM. Finally, OPITO is further doubling down on its efforts to positively influence the next generation workforce through its collaboration with Glasgow and Aberdeen Science Centres on ‘Learning Lab’ which is an online STEM learning programme for the classroom that provides teachers accredited CPD training and Curriculum for Excellence approved materials for use in schools across Scotland.

Mr Williamson said: “Our partnerships with Glasgow Science Centre and others in Scotland are integral to the accessibility of STEM careers and opportunities within the country. It is incumbent on us to galvanise – not just young people – but parents, carers and teachers to see the benefit of STEM careers and actively encourage these as a valuable and rewarding profession.”

Glasgow Science centre is celebrating its 21st year of being at the forefront of science and STEM education. As a charity, it aims to ensure all demographic groups in Scotland have access to science education.