Filling the STEM subjects and skills gap I Oxford Open Learning
Tools for STEM skill subjects

Filling the STEM subjects and skills gap

According to Cambridge Network, 97% of organisations working in STEM areas (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) have had difficulty hiring employees in their sectors. And if we look at the tech sector alone, a 2017 report by Tech Nation showed that over 50% of business owners in the UK digital tech community reported a shortage of highly skilled employees. A further quarter of respondents said sourcing talent was a major challenge.

If we look at ONS figures for university enrolment versus industry vacancies, the figures paint an equally bleak picture for STEM subjects.

For those interested in careers in professional and scientific tech industries, for instance, in 2017 there were 72,000 vacancies available  – but only 21,970 first degree university enrolments; a shortfall of almost 69%. This compared with the arts and entertainment industries, which only offered 19,000 vacancies but received 50,340 enrolments in the same year; a huge 165% more people than jobs advertised. It shows the size of the task facing the STEM sector; a definite skills shortage which doesn’t bode well for the UK’s future economy.

In 2017, despite the overall number of GCSE STEM subject entries increasing by 202,000, the number of girls taking them dropped to 136,000; a whole 66,000 less than previously. The more interesting finding here, however, is that girls continue to outperform boys across most STEM subjects, and also that, perhaps more significantly, entries by girls into STEM subjects at GCSE level continue to grow across many individual subjects, despite the drop in STEM entries overall. So despite first appearances, here at least there is a definite, positive glimmer of hope for the future.

But how can we encourage more children to take STEM subjects to university level?

At present, girls especially should be encouraged to choose to go for these subjects if they show interest, both because they should feel able to do so and because the sector’s traditionally male-dominated industries, such as construction and engineering, could surely find it useful to have a more diverse workforce. Across the board, providing children with advice on career choices should happen much sooner in school. And parents can certainly help too; with networks of friends and acquaintances working in diverse fields it’s possible to harness help from professional social networks like LinkedIn. Connections who have enjoyed a fulfilling STEM career may be very happy to share their career tips with the younger generation, and that’s a great start.

Children need to be encouraged to pursue the subjects they enjoy, and to be able to find out more about their career options. Schools should allow STEM companies into schools to speak with children, to inspire them with stories of achievement and allow them to ask questions about how their employees’ studies have helped them carve out rewarding and successful STEM careers. This will allow our young talent of tomorrow to envisage how it’s possible to fulfil their own future potential.

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