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What can we do to tackle the STEM skills shortage?

Sally Skidmore, recruitment marketing coordinator at Consilium Recruit

STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

A recent study by the UK Commission for Employment & Skills found that a startling 43% of STEM vacancies are difficult to fill. This is an alarming statistic in any industry, but especially in STEM sectors which support key technological advancements that help build our economy and fuel UK growth.

The STEM shortfall is estimated to be around 40,000 employees each year, and recently there have been reports that the shortage has now worsened for the 9th year in a row.

So, how has the shortfall happened?

A key part of the problem lies in the education system. Not enough pupils are taking STEM based subjects like maths, physics and I.T. Although the trend is beginning to increase, progress remains slow. Another factor is gender, despite young women being more academically successful than their male counterparts in GCSE STEM subjects, many don’t continue them onto A-Level and university studies. While there’s no single reason for the gender imbalance at university level, critics are citing the lack of diversity in STEM based industries, like engineering, as a key influencer.

What can we do?

STEM Ambassadors working with young people

Engaging with young people in schools and universities, and enthusing them about STEM subjects is crucial if the industry is serious about reducing the shortfall. We’re completely on board with this idea and our director, Steve Doyle, is a STEM Ambassador. Doyle wants to use his experience in engineering to inspire students and give insight into potential roles and research. “I will be working specifically with 7-11 and 16-18 year olds.  At the younger end I will be going into schools with some informative but fun talks and exercises to introduce children to the concept of engineering.  Cars, planes, ships and skyscrapers are all designed and built by engineers!  At the older end I will provide much more detailed information about Apprenticeships, College and University Course selection and careers advice. All drawing on my experiences of University and subsequent 25 years in threbe Engineering sector.”

Teachers are great at empowering their students, but they often don’t have hands-on industry experience, this is where STEM ambassadors can use their expertise and encourage pupils to consider STEM pathways.

Changing the image of STEM

For industry areas like engineering – females make up around 8% of the professional engineering workforce and only 6% of the total workforce represents people from black or minority ethnic backgrounds; that’s a systemic lack of diversity. This is a real issue for the STEM industry, especially when you take into consideration that on average, 25.5% of engineering first degrees are awarded to students from black or minority ethnic backgrounds yet far fewer are actually choosing a career in a relatable role.

The Royal Academy of Engineering has committed to changing the image of the STEM industry by making workplaces more diverse and inclusive. It makes sense for society and also for the economy. If more women and ethnic minorities feel confident, included and can see career progression for themselves in STEM industries then it’ll go some way to combatting the current skills shortage.

Engineering Diversity Concordat

The Royal Academy of Engineering is leading the charge in the industry, back in 2012 it set up an Engineering Diversity Concordat to support professional bodies in science and engineering to enable them to monitor and drive changes in their institutions.

These types of initiatives can help to secure talent from underrepresented groups and encourage them to forge successful careers in STEM industries. Being mentored by scientists and engineers who have come from a similar background not only helps the new recruits but it’s a great development opportunity for senior professionals too.

No quick fix

There’s no quick fix when it comes to the lack of diversity in STEM industries, but there’s no doubt about it - industries are missing out on a rich pool of talent, because of a range of sociological and socio-economic factors.

This poses a moral and business challenge. The STEM skills shortage looks set to continue, so a number of initiatives need to work in tandem in order to encourage underrepresented groups to continue their STEM education.

Schools, universities, businesses and recruiters need to work together to make STEM industries a realistic option that appeals to everyone. This can start from the types of activities carried out in a classroom, right through to the type of language used in STEM job adverts.

Here at Consilium, we’re proud to support this change if you’re interested in finding out more about STEM networking or would like to become an ambassador yourself follow the link.  

Picture courtesy of Pixabay

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