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Business Soapbox: Brian Campbell

Brian Campbell of Sentinus says creating a technical growth-based economy is the only solution to our economic problems and promoting study of science, technology, engineering and maths is needed to reach this target

I want you all to think about your journey to work this morning. Many of you will have been woken by an alarm clock, used a kettle to make a 'cuppa' before leaving the house, driving to the office and turning on your PC and somewhere in between you will all have used your mobile phones at least once. Now imagine a world where none of these things exist - could you cope?

I don't think anyone would disagree that as a population and even as an economy we have become reliant on technology. It allows us to work smarter and enriches our lives.

But ironically, as this reliance grows, the numbers of people choosing to study science, technology, engineering and maths is declining right across the world. It doesn't take a 'rocket scientist' to realise that if this trend is to continue then, as a region, we have a serious problem.

At Sentinus we believe that the creation of a technical growth-based economy is the only solution to Northern Ireland's economic problems.

It is against such a set of circumstances that Sentinus, Northern Ireland's leading promoter of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) was established back in 1982. And while progress has been made, thanks in no small part to the Assembly placing STEM high on its agenda as a viable means of aiding economic recovery, I am somewhat concerned as to the future resourcing of this. The government's review of the STEM problem and how it can be resolved is nearing a conclusion, but my fear is that just as we are about to agree a strategy for STEM, the effects of the recession look to threaten future investment.

In my opinion this cannot be allowed to happen. We are not naive to the world's issues, but when you consider that in today's modern society everything is either driven or underpinned by technology - the idea of not having a strong and vibrant STEM structure is unthink- able. The need for Sentinus has never been greater. STEM subjects are no longer the popular choice for GSCE and A-level students. The knock-on effect being that we have fewer STEM graduates and less following STEM-based careers.

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In an attempt to address this trend Sentinus works tirelessly throughout North-ern Ireland to promote the exciting and rewarding experiences that STEM offers.

The events programme ranges from classroom-based workshops to our high profile Young Innovators event that attracted more than 3,000 students to the Odyssey Arena annually.

Add to this Sentinus' management of over 1,000 STEM ambassadors, its engagement with more than 50,000 students each year and the recent partnership with leading ICT provider Fujitsu and you begin to get a sense of the vital role the organisation plays.

However, I fear none of this will matter if, as a result of budget constraints the STEM review is placed on the back burner. For a company to invest in Northern Ireland we must be able to show a clear strategy for attracting the next generation into the STEM sectors.

In my opinion our ability to do this will be dictated by two key drivers: govern- mental budget allocations and the effective implemen-tation of the STEM review.

We know that cuts have to take place but we must not, and cannot, allow STEM to find itself on the periphery.

Put simply, if the Assembly is serious about economic recovery based on a vibrant go-forward society, then we must work together to encourage the growth of small, knowledge-based high- value operations that are underpinned by STEM.