Back in 2001, the US National Science Foundation coined the acronym #STEM for the first time. Broken down into its four subject categories, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, when considered, STEM is everywhere we look.
It is by no means a restrictive field to join, laden with opportunity and potential.
Creativity and innovation are rife within STEM and exist as its backbone.
Back in 2014, UK universities announced that applicants to STEM related undergraduate degrees reached a record high, up eight per cent on the previous year, and a considerable 18 per cent on a decade previous.
That said, since then, the continued rhetoric has been one of a major skill shortage within the industry, so much so, the UK government is suffering economic effects of up to £1.5bn per annum.
A 2018 report that surveyed 400 HR directors and decision makers across relevant businesses found 90 per cent of employers are struggling to recruit staff with the desired skill base.
Ultimately, this translates into approximately 10 unfilled roles per company and these aforementioned decision makers being forced to look further afield to find the candidates they require. 48 per cent of businesses are now talent-scouting abroad.
What’s the reason behind the shortage?
In reality, there is no definitive answer to this question and unfortunately, in the same breath, there is no clear solution. However, analysts have proposed the following reasons are certainly accelerating the problem:
- Those currently working in STEM roles are choosing to take earlier retirement and those who choose to stay on are failing to achieve their desired salary that matches their experience
- At primary and secondary school level, there is not enough emphasis placed on the importance and, similarly, diversity of STEM. A lack of clear, concise advice in terms of career guidance fails to encourage children to adopt such a professional path later in life.
- An incomparable number of roles available in relation to student enrolments. Excluding Arts and Entertainment, every other sector was experiencing a major skills shortage —Professional and Scientific Tech the highest, with a 69.49 per cent gap.
The UK, last year, detailed a plan to create 142,000 new jobs by 2023 which, at present, will only contribute to the problem which is rapidly growing out of control.
Solutions to the problem
Before being able to detail a plan to combat what has been described as ‘the perfect storm’, a clear channel of communication between the different stake holders needs to be established.
As noted above, schools will often be burdened with the blame for much of the STEM skill shortage however, they are simply one piece of an overarching problem. If we are going to see any form of U-turn, the government and businesses alike need to start ambitiously devoting their power into developing a strategy for the future of STEM.
Yvonne Baker, Chief Executive of STEM learning notes: ““The shortage is a problem for employers, society and the economy, and in this age of technological advancement the UK has to keep apace. We need to be in a better position to home grow our talent, but it cannot be left to government or schools alone – businesses have a crucial role to play too.”
Baker goes on to call upon businesses to help schools and education boards to inspire children to embark on a future within STEM via their investment.
The room for improvement extends well beyond the classroom and the curriculum, suggests Columbus UK, a leading digital business services provider. Columbus draw upon initiatives such as Code Clubs, which exists of out-of-school sessions for primary school children, in conjunction with well known British brands.
The purpose is to break down barriers children may believe to exist around STEM, explaining that is so much more than laboratory work and actively functions within our everyday lives. Weetabix is a case study regularly used by Code Clubs. The popular breakfast brand is used to demonstrate the journey ‘from field to fork’, detailing the continued role that STEM plays in this process.
Ultimately, the goal is to help children understand how much potential exists within STEM and not only what they can offer the industry, but what the industry can offer them.
Post-secondary education and apprenticeships offer a wide range of avenues into the industry, dispelling the myth that the only way in is through a university degree. Lookers, retailers of Ford Transit vehicles, is one such example of a UK business who actively recruits apprentices in all areas of their work, focusing on creation, innovation, and learning.
Now, perhaps more than ever before, the importance of STEM has propelled itself into the limelight, owing to current situation in regard to Covid-19, and national lockdown.
As scientists, healthcare professionals, and manufacturers work tirelessly to not only find a vaccine for the virus, but to meet the demand for PPE and other medical equipment, the importance of these industries massively heighten.
We are currently unaware what the economic situation will look like post-lockdown, with few able to predict the lasting damages. However, one thing is for sure — when this is all over, our need for these vital workers in our population will be recognised even more prominently.