Figures today which detail UK Government spending on three of the four areas which make up STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) come at a critical juncture for the UK’s world-class technical capabilities. The ONS report on spending in science, engineering and technology is released as the sector looks to secure funding routes in an uncertain future. However, maintaining the UK’s prowess in STEM is not only dependent on government expenditure, but on businesses’ ongoing access to technical skills.
According to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), international benchmarking indicates that science and innovation in the country is hampered by weaknesses in STEM talent. The report suggests that whilst there is no overall undersupply of high level STEM skills in the labour market, employers are still unable to find potential recruits with the specific capabilities they require.
UKCES concludes that a greater range of options combining work and study are required to deliver higher level technical skills alongside practical experience. These options are a mechanism by which employers can effectively access the specific skills that they need.
Despite this recommendation, training offered to science, technology, engineering and maths professionals is lower than other professionals. The Open University, calling for a greater focus on work-based education, says that these options encourage employees to apply knowledge practically in their workplace, boosting the effectiveness of training. Those in search of career change and progression can feasibly become the highly skilled STEM workers the UK needs.
Steve Hill (pictured right), Director of External Engagement at The Open University, comments:
“At the moment we are not doing enough to connect education in high level skills to the business needs of the country, so we urgently need to refocus our training efforts. Greater awareness around the effectiveness of work-based training is needed if the UK’s economic future is to lie in high value, knowledge-intensive activities and innovation.”
According to Hill, there are many challenges facing the STEM sectors at the moment, not least as they seek to secure routes of funding for research and development. “The health of this sector is of vital importance to businesses across the UK: engineering alone generates £455.6 billion GDP, and specific STEM skills play a pivotal role in developing innovative products and services.
“Considering the high value placed on technical skills, it is disappointing that workers in STEM-related roles receive less training than those in other professional occupations.
Hill believes that businesses facing a shortage of high-level technical skills cannot rely on the possibility that they will be able to hire individuals with the right expertise, as well as soft skills and commercial awareness. He suggests considering the potential of many people already within the workforce: “If we offer them appropriate training, we can quickly develop work-ready and highly-skilled individuals across the full range of STEM capabilities.”