than a quarter of science, technology, engineering and maths workers are female.
Points for many engineering and technology courses have fallen, despite a number of Government initiatives to attract young people into the industry.
Employer bodies have repeatedly warned that there is a critical shortage of engineering graduates, particularly in construction-related areas, and that some critical infrastructure projects may at risk.
The drop in points reflects a fall in applications for engineering and technology courses of about 4 per cent.
While interest in engineering disciplines has waned, the number of applications for built environment and architecture courses has risen by about 5 per cent, suggesting that at least some of the more technically minded students may have shifted towards construction disciplines.
Less than a quarter of science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) workers are female and this means that the available talent pool is smaller. In recent years, there have been a number of initiatives to attract more girls into Stem, including Smart Futures, Teen Turn, Steam Education and Girls Hack Ireland.
Positive role model
Many such programmes are based around the idea that if children and teens are introduced to positive role models, they are more likely to see it as a viable career option.
Dr Aoibheann Bird is the education and public engagement manager with the Insight Centre for Data Analytics.
Through their programme Girls Hack, they bring female scientists and engineers to schools around the country. There is a chicken and egg situation at play, she said: schools will only offer Stem subjects to girls if there’s enough demand for them, and there won’t be enough demand if the younger girls don’t see the older girls studying these subjects.
“There has to be facilities for Stem in the girls’ schools and ideally the schools need to be responsive to that demand, even if it is only coming from a few students,” she said.
Recent studies show that boys are not intrinsically better at Stem while neuroscience research suggests there is no such thing as a “male” or “female” brain: our early experiences shape our neural development and our later interests. A little girl who is only given dolls is less likely to develop the same interests in Stem as her brothers who have Lego and robots.
“Ireland needs to take an early, more rounded approach to fostering an interest in Stem,” said Mari Cahalane, head of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. “Stem education is very important for Ireland and parents can play an important role in encouraging interest.”