News & Events

Friday 16 October, 2015

Closing the Gap: The image of STEM careers needs a facelift

The number of science graduates across Europe has decreased over the last decade, declining from 24.3% in 2002 to 22.6% in 2011 according to Eurostat. In the UK, a 2013 study conducted by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) found that among businesses seeking employees with STEM skills and knowledge, 39% faced difficulties recruiting those staff. Yet in the meantime, estimates also show that 7.5 million young Europeans between 15 and 24 are not employed, not in education and not in training (NEETS). 

So how can we help close this skills gap and attract more young people to STEM-related careers? 

Recognising the true extent of an issue is the only way it can be properly addressed. And the truth is, the image of a career in a STEM industry amongst young people and women needs a facelift – too many still perceive engineering and manufacturing jobs as being mostly unskilled, involving heavy machinery and noise. 

At Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), we know we have a responsibility to inspire young people and help them build a brighter future by supporting them in acquiring the skills, knowledge and understanding of the workplace that will give them a competitive edge. We invest in programmes that currently reach over 130,000 young people every year and we’ve committed to support the learning needs and skills development of 250,000 young people a year by 2020

Every year, we open the doors of our factories to 50,000 young people through our education centres.  These centres are led by education specialists and help students appreciate the importance of Science, Technology and Engineering to our business and the wider economy. Connecting with students at an early age is key, an age where they consider what academic subjects they will take forward as they progress to further and higher education. 

In addition, we reach over 80,000 young people a year through education partnership programmes, designed to inspire young people to develop the soft skills and competencies needed in the world of work, like our Dreamers and Believers programme in Belgium and the Real Business Challenge in Great Britain. 

We also provide several points of entry for young people to our business through apprenticeships, work placements, internships, and have recruited over 80 future talents through our graduate programme since 2009. 

As reported widely in the media, women still remain a low proportion of the workforce in STEM sectors. In the UK, data from the Office of National Statistics shows that women only represent 13% of the STEM workforce, despite making up 46% of the labour market. It’s clear that without an increase in the number of women training for STEM careers, the industry will continue to be not only under represented by women but also hugely under resourced. 

Gender diversity is a particular focus for us at CCE. Improving our gender diversity ratio will help us to improve the dynamics of our team and develop our ability to innovate. That is why our aspiration is to achieve a minimum of 40% women at both management and leadership grades, and why we have focused on programmes that improve our ability to attract, develop and retain women, particularly within our supply chain organisation.  This is not just about the broader principle of gender diversity, but is also in the interest of ensuring a competitive business advantage. 

Plugging the skills gap is fundamental to the future success of our industry – but it’s not going to happen on its own. Both government and industry need to invest time and money into a long-term, sustainable plan to make these sectors more appealing to the younger generations and increase female representation.

Bill Muirhead

Education Programme (EU) Senior Manager

Bill joined CCE in 2007 having spent time abroad setting up a bar/restaurant in Chile and returning to the UK to work in the public sector as an English teacher and for the Enterprise Advisor Service, helping schools in Hillingdon embed work-related learning and enterprise in the curriculum.

After managing CCE’s Education Centre in Edmonton, North London, Bill took on the role of overseeing the programme across Great Britain. In the run-up to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Bill project managed two legacy projects; the opening a new education centre in Sidcup, Kent and the creation of a national enterprise challenge for all secondary schools, the Real Business Challenge.

In 2012 the GB programme won Business in the Community's prestigious Award for Excellence for the best corporate education programme in the UK and was shortlisted for a Lord Mayor's Dragon Award. More recently it has been recognised at the Ethical Corporation Awards for Responsible Business as well as by the Food and Drink Federation Community Partnership Awards.

Bill is now responsible for CCE’s work supporting young people across Great Britain, France, Benelux, Norway and Sweden and leading on the company’s commitment to support the learning needs and skills development of a quarter of a million young people each year by 2020.

Bill is married with a 4 year old son and, besides spending time with family and friends, enjoys travel, water sports and the crackle of a good vinyl record.


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