For children and young people, hands-on experience is an important and exciting part of the learning process. And, if there is a commitment to leaving an educational legacy in the community, major projects are the perfect vehicle for bringing science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) to life for young people.

Recent research by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) found that those who work with STEM subjects have a better quality of life, in terms of gaining their dream job, getting on the property ladder quicker and earning and saving more than those who do not pursue a career in the STEM subjects.

Yet according to research by the National Audit Office, one of the UK’s key economic problems is a shortage of STEM skills in the workforce. The 2018 Industrial Strategy agrees: “we need to tackle particular shortages of STEM skills. These skills are important for a range of industries from manufacturing to the arts.”

So why do STEM subjects struggle to attract the numbers of people needed to fill the demand for careers?

Research by the IET suggests that the lack of a pipeline of technically minded talent could be a consequence of parents’ lack of confidence in scientific subjects, leaving children without role models to encourage them to study STEM subjects. Perhaps engineers who have the opportunity to work on some of the most exciting and often awe-inspiring projects might be able to help fill that gap?

The infrastructure and development industry is perfectly positioned to provide inspiration and much-needed role models, by delivering hands-on education to the next generation of planners, engineers, scientists, environmental specialists and architects. Done well, STEM projects can inspire children, enriching their school careers, reinforcing their commitment to academic subjects and even serving to attract the brightest and best to an industry under high demand.

It is all too easy to relegate this activity to something resembling an afterthought – particularly on complex projects where the pressure is on everyone to deliver. However, STEM outreach is a golden opportunity for major infrastructure projects to reinforce their commitment to the communities they operate in.

The benefits of undertaking STEM initiatives flow both ways; demonstrating a proactive commitment to do good for the local area naturally reflects on the scheme itself. Meanwhile, effective STEM outreach can be a vital strand of a project’s communications, reducing risk whilst generating support and widespread understanding of the need for development.

A good rapport makes difficult conversations more honest; stakeholders more open; support more vocal and opposition more rational. If a community feels supported, it is more likely to listen, learn and respond.