Tania Cooper MBE, chair of the North East STEM Foundation (NESF), is urging the next government to prioritise funding for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education and apprenticeships.

Tania, who is also managing director at Middlesbrough-based Steel Benders UK Ltd, has called for additional funding for specialist STEM schools, such as University Technical Colleges (UTCs), and apprenticeships, to address the skills shortage, meet the demands of modern industry and ambitious green targets set by the previous government.

Tania highlighted the discrepancy between the evolving demands of modern industry and the current state of STEM education: “The outdated and underfunded STEM education system leaves students ill-equipped,” she noted. “Specialist STEM schools, which see an eightfold increase in students entering apprenticeships compared to the national average, offer education tailored to industry‚Äôs requirements. However, many students face barriers to accessing them due to transport and associated costs.”

“The next government must prioritise funding and STEM education and training to eliminate obstacles if the country is to develop a skilled workforce capable of driving a low-carbon economy,” said Tania. “We need to meet targets like 600,000 heat pumps annually by 2028 and 50 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2030.”

The NESF’s mission is to ensure that every young person, regardless of their background, has access to high-quality STEM education in a modern environment supported by employers. By producing highly skilled and innovative workers, the foundation aims to future-proof both local industries and the economy. This is achieved through outreach programmes, eliminating financial barriers to STEM education, and creating high-quality STEM-focused learning environments at key educational stages.