The latest briefing from the Knowledge Exchange focuses on the provision of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills in the UK. You can download the briefing for free from the Knowledge Exchange home page.
Despite indications that increased levels of skills acquisition in STEM fields is critical to the future of the UK economy, surveys of employers frequently reveal issues with the recruitment of employees with appropriate skills.
In its March 2014 report ‘Engineering our future: stepping up the urgency on STEM’, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) highlights several estimates of the STEM skills gap currently faced in the UK, including the Social Market Foundation’s indication that the present annual shortfall of STEM graduates is around the 400,000 mark.
A number of reasons for addressing this gap have been identified, including the significance of STEM skills to the innovation and economic growth of a country; enabling a country to compete on the global stage; and the need to replace retiring STEM professionals. A range of factors have also been acknowledged as contributing towards the STEM skills gap currently seen in the UK, such as a lack of engagement with STEM subjects in schools, as well as a general lack of readiness for working life among young people.
One of the biggest challenges facing the UK STEM workforce is its lack of diversity. Research has indicated that women, disabled people and those from ethnic minority and socially disadvantaged groups are persistently underrepresented in STEM-related fields. Existing evidence points to the underrepresentation of women as a particular problem, with a lack of role models, cultural messages and inflexible working patterns identified as some of the main barriers to girls and women pursuing careers in a STEM related career. Back in April, we blogged about the need for STEM role models for girls.
Nevertheless, there are some encouraging signs, with the CBI also indicating that the number of employers reporting difficulties in finding suitable STEM graduate recruits fell from 17% to 12% between 2012 and 2013. There are also initiatives like the Stemettes, who aim to get more girls interested in STEM related subjects, working to improve the diversity of the workforce.
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