Gear up to head off STEM shortage

March 20, 2014

The UK’s engineering skills challenge is even more stark than some imagine: we need at least 800,000 more graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics by 2020, not 100,000 (“Caught short?”, Feature, 6 March). There is substantial evidence pointing to very real skills shortages in many areas, particularly in some engineering sectors. Many companies report such shortages as the single greatest barrier to their growth. To address these issues effectively, we must remember that STEM skills are not a single entity.

The Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2012 report Jobs and Growth: The Importance of Engineering Skills to the UK Economy used robust datasets to analyse the existing and forthcoming engineering skills landscape. It concluded that we need an extra 800,000-plus STEM graduates by 2020. This is partly to replace an ageing workforce, but also to meet predicted demand for engineers throughout the entire economy in sectors such as finance, healthcare and IT.

The growth in STEM has been driven by subject groups such as biological sciences and those allied to medicine. This overall expansion masks the limited change in engineering and technology graduates over the past 20 years. The issue is not STEM but rather specific disciplines, namely engineering, computing and physical sciences.

Even within engineering, the picture is complex, as not all sectors face the same skills challenges. In addition, skills shortages are often experienced most keenly in the supply chain, not in the high-profile global organisations within the same sector. The Royal Academy of Engineering is working with employers and universities to find ways to highlight the opportunities for graduates in smaller firms.

This is an important debate for the UK, and I agree that more, real-time data must be gathered. It is imperative that sector and skill-specific information be made available, utilised and communicated accurately to all stakeholders, from government and industry through to students considering their career options.

Rhys Morgan
Director, engineering and education
Royal Academy of Engineering

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