The UK Government has recently set out an ambition to make the UK a ‘Science Superpower’, says Debbie Mavis.

However, the UK’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industries are only as strong as the people who work within them.

The UK suffers from a shortage of people with STEM skills, an issue estimated to cost the UK economy £1.5bn per year. Critical action is needed to address the barriers preventing individuals from pursuing a career in STEM.

As HR professionals, it is our role to ensure everyone has equal opportunities to follow their career goals. Encouraging non-traditional routes to STEM, through work experience and apprenticeships, will be vital for our industries to close the skills gap and continue to thrive.

Ending STEM stereotypes to recruit a wider talent pool

One barrier preventing individuals from entering STEM industries is the misconception that to work in these fields, you must be degree-educated. This stereotype is misleading and can be harmful to individuals who don’t have the resources or the opportunity to attend higher education. Ending this stereotype is key to opening these industries up to emerging talent and empowering individuals from all backgrounds to consider STEM as a viable career option.

Coming from a non-university background, I did not have a typical route into business. I first entered the workplace with a training contract at BT, and then after the birth of my first child, I returned to work in a Contract role at Vodafone. After 12 years, I had worked my way up to a senior HR position at Vodafone. I then changed industries and spent 6 years in Financial Services before joining Avanti as Group HR Director in 2018. I believe that I have reached where I am today through hard work, commitment and the ability to adapt to rapidly evolving industries. As such, I am a huge advocate for alternative routes into STEM careers.

The UK chancellor announced in 2023’s Autumn Statement the Government’s £50m pilot to boost apprenticeship training in engineering and other growth sectors and a new degree apprenticeship in space engineering. There is momentum behind STEM industries, particularly the space sector, making it a perfect time for businesses to offer skills-based training to equip people for success in the workplace.

Apprenticeships provide practical, hands-on experience in a real work environment. Apprentices learn by doing, gaining valuable skills and knowledge that can be directly applied to their chosen field. Plus, as apprenticeships are paid for, individuals can support themselves financially whilst gaining valuable work experience and training. Typically, apprenticeships result in nationally recognised qualifications or certifications, so it means it is a more viable option compared to university as you don’t rack up huge amounts of debt!

At Avanti Communications, we have been running our engineer apprenticeship scheme for 10 years, and are currently looking for new talent at our Ground Earth Station in Goonhilly. This two-year programme provides apprentices with hands-on experience with some of the satellite industry’s most talented individuals. It teaches them skills that will allow them to progress into the workplace and enables them to acquire industry-wide qualifications. We encourage people from all backgrounds and education to apply.

Attracting the right talent and ensuring you are reaching a diverse talent pool

In a recent study we conducted into young people’s attitudes to STEM subjects and careers, we found that UK Children ranked Maths and Science at the top of the list, suggesting the appetite for young people to pursue a career in STEM is increasing. However, this isn’t reflected when it comes to hiring talent.

So, where are we going wrong? STEM careers haven’t always been seen as a ‘sexy’ option for many young people. However, with big tech taking centre stage in the news, and the likes of Elon Musk becoming a household name, I am hopeful this will change. We must highlight the benefits of STEM careers to younger, school-age children so that they can better understand what a career in these industries could look like. When hiring for our apprenticeship scheme, we work with Truro College to advertise the roles across the Cornish community.

At Avanti, we also offer an internship programme to allow young minds the opportunity to experience working in the space industry, which is a great way to give young people a taste of what it’s like before they fully commit. Last year we welcomed 15 interns across our seven global offices, including an internship partnership with Prospero Fellowship, where interns were linked with an Avanti mentor. Our mentors and interns were matched based on their professional areas of expertise and personal interests to maximise their learning. Avanti’s internships are fully paid for to incentivise application and to ensure our talent pool is diverse as possible.

Apprenticeships are great for employers not just employees

Investing in apprenticeships demonstrates a commitment to employee development and career advancement, leading to knock-on benefits for employers. Research has found that apprentices are more likely to remain with the company after completing their training, reducing associated recruitment costs.

Apprenticeships allow employers to mould and develop talent according to their specific needs and industry requirements. By providing hands-on training and guidance, companies can ensure that apprentices acquire the skills, knowledge, and competencies necessary to excel in their particular role, which is likely to result in higher employee satisfaction and retention.

It is also important to remember that apprenticeships aren’t just for the young and can be a great way for someone to re-train later in life. Whatever their age, apprenticeships bring new talent into an organisation, often with fresh perspectives and innovative ideas.

A work culture that champions diversity and inclusion in a meaningful way gives companies a competitive edge over their peers, with recent research finding companies with more diverse teams perform better. Apprentices may offer creative solutions to challenges and bring insights from their diverse educational and working backgrounds, contributing to a culture of innovation and continuous improvement within the company.

Companies serious about growth should consider non-traditional routes into stem as a way to address the skills shortage, ensure the recruitment of more diverse talent and the creation of a happy and fulfilled workforce with the right experience to succeed.


By Debbie Mavis, Group HR Director at Avanti Communications.