Over the last half decade we have seen a fundamental change in the Northern Ireland economy from a financial viewpoint, but also from a job and employment point of view. The biggest change we have seen and will continue to witness is a move to an intrinsically knowledge-based economy.
It is estimated that 68% of all new jobs in Northern Ireland will be directly related to science, technology, engineering and maths fields in the next decade, a statistic that is borne out of the profile of regular new foreign direct investment announcements made by government.
The demand for a highly skilled workforce is more prevalent than ever before with the Prince's Trust reporting that 89% of businesses in Northern Ireland fear a skills shortage could impact their business in the next few years.
The consistent message coming back from business and educational leaders is that there is a distinct lack of skilled employees suitable to enter the working environment with the know-how to support a company's growth.
We know from our own research that 82% of secondary school students from Northern Ireland believe that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects offer the best career opportunities. It is clear that prioritising STEM education and careers is a worthwhile investment because it creates critical thinkers, helps develop the next generation of innovators, and ensures businesses can expand and create employment with a young skilled dynamic workforce.
We believe it is vital to encourage more students to pursue STEM qualifications, so what are we doing about it? There is a great deal of lip service paid to the importance of the STEM agenda – however, at BT we have taken action to play our part in making these fundamental yet critical subjects increasingly pervasive. The flagship programme through which we do this is the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.
Now in its 51st year, the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition engages with schools, parents and government to motivate and inspire young people to consider a career in science or technology and be part of a thriving economy.
There is so much to be gained from learning outside of the classroom and the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition allows young people to get involved with and experience STEM in a completely different way. It is designed to allow project-based cross curricular learning which provides the opportunities for students to engage in areas of topical and global scientific and engineering interest.
The topics covered are from the pure sciences to sociology and can be as diverse as sanitation, soil fertility, animal husbandry, fishery science, and access to healthcare, education and ICT. Students are motivated by the opportunity to select local or global topics of interest to them and develop their own scientific investigations to bring their ideas to fruition.
The BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition opens up many doors for young people as it provides students with the practical skills and know-how to turn their ideas into something commercially viable. For the first time, this year's competition will include a new exciting partnership with Queen's University Belfast to bring the successful BT Young Scientist Business Bootcamp to Northern Ireland.
Over the course of the four days, we'll be taking students who participated in the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition and who demonstrated strong entrepreneurial flair and business acumen, through this intensive innovation and skills camp.
In delivering these programmes we collaborate with key private and public sector organisations to create an opportunity to mentor the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. Who knows what exciting ideas our future entrepreneurs will invent during this time?
The past few years have seen a number of good news stories for the science, technology and engineering sectors in Northern Ireland.
However, to maximise the opportunities that exist a highly skilled workforce is required and this can only be achieved through a collaborative approach by businesses, educational leaders and government.
We have formed strong partnerships with the Department of Education, Matrix and W5 which has enabled us to reach out to young people, helping to bridge the gap between the world of education and business, a critical step in developing future business leaders and entrepreneurs fit for the challenges of the global market. By doing this we believe the future can be bright for Northern Ireland.
The BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition is organised by BT takes place in the RDS, Dublin from January 7 to 10, 2015, and the closing date for entries is October 1, 2014.
For more information, visit www.btyoungscientist.com, check out http://www.facebook.com/BTYSTE or follow on Twitter at http://twitter.com/btyste