In this policy statement we look at what action can be taken to double the level of interest in STEM careers within the UK population, and how we can start to close the gap between vision and reality.
The UK Industrial Strategy has set out 11 key industry sectors for growth. Without exception, these rely on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills to deliver world-class competitiveness. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) has estimated that overall 1.35 million new recruits each year through to 2020 will be required to sustain even very modest economic growth. About one tenth of these will need to have skills. The current capacity of the UK to produce either student or mid-careers recruits for these roles is about only one half of this number.
There is also a particular challenge in relation to technical skills for employers in engineering and IT. With 56% of the entire workforce over the age of 40, the education and skills part of this sector has a remarkable 73% over 40. They are not alone; some 10% of employees in the Transport, Energy and Defence sectors are over 60 years old.
There is therefore the potential for a perfect storm. Just at the time when we have an Industrial Strategy calling for growth in key value-adding sectors of international competitiveness, the majority of our workforce will be looking to retire.
Delivering the UK Industrial Strategy needs a willing and able workforce to support the desired business growth. The context of a retiring baby-boomer generation more attuned to careers using STEM skills than the current school and college population, leads to increased demand at a time of static or reducing supply. This is particularly the case for vocational routes to employment, which remain as ‘second class’ options for many of our best students.
The policy statement makes the following key recommendations:
- Destination measures. Schools and colleges should be measured and compared individually on the education, training and employment destinations of their leavers, in addition to their success with academic achievements. They should also provide information on the progression of former students.
- Stronger careers information, advice and guidance. Based on successful practice demonstrated in Germany and other nations, face-to-face careers guidance should form part of a programme of careers support to be made available for all secondary school pupils – that is provided by professional careers advisers with specific expertise in STEM careers knowledge.
- Better work-related learning. Employers should be encouraged to open their places of work to students (as a complementary alternative to employer ’outreach’ in schools), since authentic and well-planned work experience placements convey reality of employment in their sector and are regarded as highly effective, especially for apprenticeships.