The future of the STEM workforce

Many companies in the STEM environment, both across Africa and globally, have come to the realisation that striving towards a gender-balanced workforce is an inevitable goal for the future. And although this is what we are aiming towards, there is no simple solution or silver bullet to achieve this.

Additionally, ensuring diversity along age, religion, race, ethnicity, cultural background, sexual orientation, religion, languages and educational lines is also crucial for a holistic workforce representative of the global economy.

But why is this important and what impact does it have?

1. Diversity of thought leads to greater problem solving

In any problem-solving situation, having a diverse set of experiences to draw from is always beneficial. Although it’s not always immediately obvious in a STEM setting, diversity of life experience is just as important as the technical and vocational experience within a team.

This needs to be paired with a strong framework and a focused leadership to get the maximum value out of this diversity of thought.

The Harvard Business Review explores this in more detail here.

2. More profit

This might seem like a big claim, but a McKinsey & Company study across Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the United States that included 180 companies, found that those with more diverse workforces enjoyed significantly higher earnings and returns on equity.

Those that outperformed were able to make the right decisions faster which is an obvious advantage in any industry. This ultimately led to higher profits.

3. Greater economic and employment benefits for the wider market

The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) has analysed multiple data sources across the European Union and its member states to extrapolate two key positive economic outcomes for STEM within the EU. Although the European Union is a vastly different market to Africa, we believe the tangential benefits for Africa would be very similar.

a. Increasing the participation of women in STEM subjects will have a strong positive GDP impact at EU level. Closing the gender gap in STEM would contribute to an increase in EU GDP per capita by 2.2 to 3.0% in 2050. In monetary terms, closing the STEM gap leads to an improvement in GDP by €610 - €820 billion in 2050.

b. Closing gender gaps in STEM education would have a positive impact on employment. Total EU employment would rise by 850 000 to 1 200 000 by 2050. These jobs are forecasted mostly in the long term as employment rates will rise only after more women studying STEM finish their education.

There are many factors impacting education, skills and career development. We need to understand these factors so that inclusivity opportunities can be addressed. If these are not addressed, it will drive further inequality among these workforces.

An equal workforce in STEM is vital for many reasons, however it is not a simple problem to solve. If we are committed to evolving our workforce to be more gender-equal, and ensure diversity of thought, we need to take the correct steps towards achieving this.

Government, business, and society need to work together in order to make this viable. Starting in homes, parents will need to understand what STEM careers are available to their children and encourage them to get into these fields after school. Companies need to get more involved with educating the community by reskilling and upskilling, and government needs to speed up the roll-out of STEM – in particular technology in schools throughout South Africa.

The future workforce can be an equal one but the work must start now to drive these changes, in order for this to become a reality sooner rather than later.

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