Economic recovery at risk as STEM skill shortages bite

Businesses unable to find suitably qualified staff as number of women in IT declines.

Skills gap

Jobs and businesses in the UK that rely on STEM skills are in jeopardy because of a shortage in skilled workers.

Furthermore, the number of women working in jobs requiring STEM skills is still far lower than the number of men, with the number of women in decline in some areas, including IT and telecoms.

These are the findings of two reports into the sector, which have painted a gloomy picture for professionals and graduates with science, technology, engineering, maths and computing (STEM) qualifications and the businesses looking to recruit them.

In its annual Education and Skills Survey, the CBI and Pearson UK found 39 per cent of firms are struggling to recruit workers with the advanced, technical STEM skills they need. Forty one per cent said they expected shortages to continue for the next three years.

In manufacturing, construction and engineering, respondents suggested they may face difficulties in getting high-skilled workers for the foreseeable future.

John Cridland, CBI director-general, said: "We're facing a critical lack of skills in some key industries, just as the economy starts to pick up.

"We need to boost our skills base urgently before the UK loses more ground."

The CBI/Pearson study recommends an increased "rigour in traditional core subjects such as maths, English, science and computer science", as well as strengthening languages, humanities and other technical subjects.

The other report, published by the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Committee, calls on the Government to do more to encourage women to study and take up STEM-related careers.

Les Ebdon of the Office for Fair Access (Offa) told the report's authors the disparity between men and women studying STEM subjects was improving.

However, the report highlights the fact the percentage of women employed as IT and telecoms professionals declined in the first decade of this century from 22 per cent in 2001 to 18 per cent in 2010.

Commenting on the BIS report, Bill Walker, security analyst and technical director at QA, added: "The data reflects the troublingly low number of women in the cyber security profession that we saw in 2012.

"It is unclear why women are so under-represented in such an important and fast-growing part of Britain's IT economy ... [but] the shortage of women in the highlighted sectors of the economy must be tackled."

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