The shortfall in graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths costs the UK economy £1.5bn a year, according to a report.
STEM Learning, which provides career support and training, surveyed 400 HR directors and decision makers in relevant businesses, and found that there are major shortages of staff with STEM skills. This has led to increased recruitment, training and temporary staff costs, adding up to £1.5bn a year.
Nine in 10 employers have found it difficult to recruit staff with the right skills, leading to a shortfall of more than 173,000 workers – an average of 10 unfilled roles per business.
Recruitment is taking longer, and 48% of STEM businesses are looking abroad to find the right skills. However, figures revealed earlier this week show that the Home Office turned away record numbers of skilled visa applicants between December and March, including 383 engineers who had UK job offers.
“We are heading towards a perfect storm for STEM businesses in the UK – a very real skills crisis at a time of uncertainty for the economy and as schools are facing unprecedented challenges,” said Yvonne Baker, chief executive of STEM Learning.
Peter Finegold, head of education at IMechE, said there is an apparent mismatch between the skills employers need and those valued by our education system. "Technology and engineering will be major growth areas, yet our education system is still structured so that STEM really means ‘science subjects and maths at schools for science and maths at university,'" he said.
A recent Institution of Mechanical Engineers study suggests that more young people would consider engineering if they had had a chance to engage meaningfully with the subject at some point in school.
It calls on the government to work with industry and leading educationalists to find creative ways of embedding engineering in schools that go beyond role models and STEM ambassadors.