By Christie Day
Businesses across the UK have consistently warned of recruitment struggles and skills shortages in science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) fields. A staggering nine in 10 (89%) STEM companies said they ‘found it difficult to hire staff with the required skills” according to recent research from STEM Learning. A shortfall that is costing businesses a whopping £1.5 billion a year, as they fight to close the gap in staffing levels, recruitment and training.
The STEM challenge is an escalating problem for the nation’s economy, business owners and society in general. In the digital era, when technological advancement plays such a pivotal role in people’s day to day lives, the demand for STEM related skills has never been greater. It’s a critical issue that requires a multi-pronged solution, from the strongest government initiatives to the education system and the world of business.
One of the biggest STEM priorities is to improve gender diversity. Only 13% of the overall UK STEM workforce are women. A figure that organisation WISE is determined to increase. WISE is leading a long-term campaign “for gender balance in science, technology and engineering, from the classroom to the boardroom” and has reported that significant progress has already been made with 44,000 more women working in core STEM occupations in 2018 compared with the previous year. For the first time ever, the total exceeds 900,000 women and WISE has set a target of one million by 2020.
The UK government first published its report into the STEM challenges more than a decade ago, however it has only recently recommended targets to address the gender imbalance in specific areas. The Department for Education report “Delivering STEM skills for the Economy” highlights particular concerns, such as the fact that just 8% of STEM apprenticeship starts are undertaken by women and, in education, there has been little improvement in the number of females studying subjects like computing and physics.
A key question is whether the business world could be doing more to tackle the STEM shortages? STEM Learning has called for businesses to join its efforts to attract more talent to the sector and inspire young people in local schools and colleges to help grow the future workforce. Greater steps need to be taken by UK companies to raise the profile of STEM career opportunities for women and highlight the benefits of working in such a rewarding sector.
Events like Women in Business Expo 2019, which takes place in Farnborough in October, provides a positive platform for businesses in these industries to promote the available roles to a wide range of professional women. At the first ever event of its kind, there will be a range of exhibitors who specialise in general education and for those who want to explore careers in STEM there will be many opportunities to research the sector further with a special seminar covering diversity in STEM.
The aim of WIB Expo is to provide an inspirational environment for women at any stage of their career or business journey and there will be zones dedicated to STEM related companies such as Women in Tech. There will also be speakers and representatives from industry technology giants Lenovo, Microsoft and Oracle alongside renowned brands like Vodafone, Pure Storage and Red Hat.
We can’t tackle the STEM challenge with one event, however at least it is a step in the right direction to raise the profile of businesses to professional women looking for their next career move. The pace of technological developments will only increase and in the future more and more jobs will require a STEM background. We have to do all we can to encourage girls and women to pursue these career paths and help to STEM the issue of gender imbalance.