There’s been a significant refocusing on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills in recent years. With reports like STEM strategy – Success through STEM, the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) has spent several years reviewing and strategising around attempts to encourage individuals into STEM subjects. Meanwhile, back in August, parliamentary under secretary of state for women and equalities Jo Swinson kicked off a drive to get more women involved in STEM careers, in light of the fact that, at the time, just 15.5% of STEM roles were filled by women. So there certainly isn’t a lack of awareness regarding the importance of these subjects.
In light of this, you would expect to find that the number of those qualified in STEM would have rocketed. But the STEM Skills Gap Report, conducted by developer of mathematical computing software MathWorks in connection with YouGov, has revealed that a great deal of stakeholders feel graduates are still going into the world without sufficient skills to meet the needs of the modern workplace. Not only did 59% of the enterprises spoken to feel there was a significant skills shortfall but, more worryingly, a jaw-dropping 79% of the academic institutions themselves felt there weren’t enough students leaving university with the capabilities required.
This is particularly worrying given the consensus amongst both enterprise and education that STEM disciplines are essential for the UK’s future, with eight and nine out of ten respondents respectively feeling the skills gap needs to be bridged if the country is going to remain competitive in the modern world. Unfortunately 61% of employers and 68% of academics that believe there is a skills gap feel it will take more than a decade for this bridging to take place.
So what can be done to speed up this resolution? A popular opinion is that industry and academia must work more closely together, with more than half of the former and nearly two-thirds of the latter feeling employers must work more closely with universities. How far this can extend is however subject to debate; 63% of businesses felt industry should have an increased role in setting the STEM curriculum, something echoed by only 46% of academics. Another divide between the two is regarding project-based learning, as three-fifths of businesses think the area needs more attention compared to just a third of universities.
Dr. Coorous Mohtadi, senior academic technical marketing specialist for MathWorks said: “This report tells us two important things. First, that more needs to be done to encourage students to study STEM subjects in tertiary education. Second, that STEM curricula need to better reflect the requirements of industry, bearing in mind that during their careers, students will need to solve problems that are not yet known, using technologies that haven’t been invented yet.”
It does seem we may have a battle ahead of us in making sure that the UK can remain competitive in STEM sectors. But it’s evident that there are plenty of stakeholders committed to keeping the importance of these disciplines at the front of people’s minds.