IP EXPO Manchester 2019 - Manchester keeps ahead of the STEM skills game
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Manchester keeps ahead of the STEM skills game

Thursday 13 April 2017

With Brexit negotiations in their infancy, addressing the STEM skills gap and ensuring that UK technology businesses have a pool of skilled talent to take British industry into the future is fast becoming one of the most pressing educational issues of our time.

Innovation in UK industry depends upon one key ingredient: skilled, inspired and pioneering young talent driving our digital businesses and new technology industries forward. Which is exactly why it is vital that we are all doing everything possible to give our young people the skills and knowledge they need for the future.

But how to close the STEM skills gap? That’s the question on everybody’s lips.

Parliament have recently set up an inquiry into the issue whilst the Science and Technology Committee is inviting “written evidence on measures that organisations, businesses, schools, colleges and individuals have taken to close the STEM skills gap… [including] but not limited to, apprenticeships, vocational courses, mentoring, teacher placements in industry and establishing links between business and schools/colleges.” 

It’s a great initiative for sure, both timely and fundamentally critical in terms of finding ways in which the private and public sectors can collaborate and best work together to encourage more young people to study STEM subjects, preparing them to enter technology professions.


Can the government do more on STEM?

As ever, Manchester and the North-West is already ahead of the game, with a number of local organisations and initiatives already under way to address the STEM skills shortage.

Check out, for example The University of Manchester’s forward-thinking program on STEM activities, with the university running a range of STEM events and activities for secondary school teachers, advisers and pupils, as well as STEM activities and events designed specifically for schools and colleges take place within the university’s academic Faculties and Schools.

This type of initiative – one of many across Manchester and the North-West – and the above-mentioned STEM skills gap inquiry are sure-footed, confident steps in the right direction. But is the government really doing enough to make sure we have the talent we need for our industry to thrive in the Internet of Things era?

This is not a theoretical policy question. This is an urgent industrial need. What with the IoT revolution almost upon us and with government figures released late last year revealing that the UK is going to need around half a million additional workers in the digital sector by 2020.

Addressing the STEM gap is an immense challenge for Britain’s digital industries, schools and universities. In fact 70% of IT decision makers in the UK believe the government is lagging behind in encouraging young people into STEM.

Work-based skills and learning essential

When quizzed more specifically about which skills think are lacking in today’s graduates, there are three points that really stand out. Firstly, 41% believe that the graduates they are employing do not have enough baseline experience such as apprenticeships and work-study.

Secondly, 34% believe that they come with obsolete knowledge, claiming that the school curricula cannot keep up with the technologies used in the enterprise. That is a major problem that needs to be addressed at every stage of schooling, from primary to secondary and through to college and university level.

Finally, in what’s quite a damning verdict on the talent pool coming out of UK universities, nearly a third (30%) felt that graduates are just not technically-minded enough.

So what should the government and our education sector be doing to develop science, technology, engineering and maths skills in our graduates and young people in schools? Come and let us know your thoughts on the matter.