Making the UK a STEM Nation

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From globalisation and technological advances to demographic shifts, we’re seeing a huge amount of transformation taking place that is impacting many traditional jobs, while creating new opportunities in emerging economic sectors.

Amongst all this change, one thing is true: digital is not a sector unto itself, it is penetrating every industry and organisation, creating demand for new skills.

STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and maths — are beginning to dominate the upper reaches of the tables for graduate prospects and salaries in professional employment. And with tuition fees at an all-time high, it’s no surprise that students and parents are seeking more value in the university experience.

It’s great to see how an increased awareness and investment in STEM subjects is paying off, but students, more than ever, should be given hands on training early on if they are to gain a sense of how to apply these skills in a business setting.

In order for this to be achieved, we need to see more education bodies working with industry.

The clamour for digital skills

It’s clear we need digital skills to flourish in the future. In the past year alone, we’ve seen countless reports confirm this. The OECD suggests an “increasing use of digital technologies at work is raising the demand for new [digital] skills….” The White House tells us that “coursework in STEM, and specifically in areas such as computer science, will be especially relevant to work and citizenship in an increasingly AI-driven world.” And the UK Government Office for Science believes a million new people are forecasted to be required for specialist digital roles by 2023.

There is undoubtedly a very real digital skills shortage that we can and must address in the UK.

Furthermore, former GCHQ head, Robert Hannigan, made the claim that parents should be encouraging their children to spend more time online in order to “save the country,” as the UK fails to compete with other countries on cyber skills.

There is undoubtedly a very real digital skill shortage that we can and must address in the UK, but in tandem we need to encourage children to develop both technical and non-technical skills.

Reaching beyond the classroom

Whether it is learning soft skills like how to lead a meeting, or more practical applications like building a website against a real client brief, industries and education bodies have a joint responsibility to ensure our future workforce is properly equipped for the types of roles they’re already finding themselves competing to enter.

It might be through work experience, apprenticeship schemes or collaboration on subjects taught in the classroom; either way, access to real world experiences is key to ensuring the future competitiveness of the UK economy.

With the rise of the digital age, there’s no denying that technical skills are and will be at the core of our professional and personal lives. What this also means is, with robotics and artificial intelligence set to take over a number of manual jobs, we’re presented with an immense opportunity for the next generation to tap into a number of high-skilled jobs, where creativity, decision making, communications skills, leadership and teamwork is imperative.

The business case for apprenticeships

Still one of the best vehicles for industry and educators to work together is through apprenticeships. Apprenticeships allow organisations to gain new ideas, knowledge and skills from the input of the younger workforce, all the while helping them to lay the groundwork for a thriving career.

In addition, they encourage young women to enter careers in the technology sector, and address the ongoing gender imbalance that we face.

The likes of Unilever and Siemens have demonstrated the valuable contribution apprentices can make to their workforce. Both firms offer a variety of subject areas ranging from electronic engineering to software development. School leavers will be able to gain NVQ Level 3 or Level 4 qualification upon completion of their apprenticeships that can last between 18 months to four years.

To develop talent with valuable digital skills, the workforce industry and educators must work in partnership.

Whatever the sector, it’s crucial for employers to be proactive in their candidate searches and take advantage of apprenticeship schemes to boost mobility and productivity. Research shows that 96% of employers benefitted from taking on apprentices, suggesting that the small investment schemes like the apprenticeship levy may have the potential to reap huge rewards.

How do we get there?

To develop talent with valuable digital skills, the workforce industry and educators must work in partnership. This should combine a blend of technical training and real world experience to equip school leavers for the digital future they’ll soon be leading.

Implementing high-quality training courses will not only benefit the students, but it can also generate long-lasting value for the existing workforce, by ensuring learning is applied immediately for maximum impact in the organisation.

 

About Angela Hughes

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