The CBI has called on the government to reduce university tuition fees on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) courses, to make tech careers in more attractive and easier to access.
A new CBI report, Engineering our Future, warns that much vaunted sectors of the UK economy “from the advanced manufacturing and creative industries to the green economy”, all face skills shortages.
CBI Chief Policy Director, Katja Hall, said, “The growing skills vacuum is threatening the recovery, as demand from firms is outstripping supply.”
To address this problem, the CBI in addition to a reduction in tuition fees is calling for :
- The development of one-year crossover courses at 18 for young people to switch back to STEM in preparation for a related degree – an approach used by the legal profession after graduation
- New collaborative training solutions to progress apprenticeships and retraining to meet the pressing need for skilled technicians
- 6th forms, colleges and universities to set and report on “Davies-style” gender diversity targets to boost women’s participation in key subjects like physics and maths
- Use of UK Commission for Employment and Skills funding in key sectors to help firms retrain older workers in STEM shortage areas.
“The Davies Review has had an impact in the boardroom, now we need a similar focus on the classroom. There is a shameful gender gap in science and technology so we need to transform society’s ideas of the choices women have in their careers,” said Hall.
“It is increasingly clear that the really problematic shortages are at skilled technician level. We do have to play a long game on skills, creating more apprenticeships, but we also need policies for the short-term, including retraining existing workers with in-demand skills in key sectors.”
Mark Brown, Director of Information Security at professional services and accountancy giant, EY, supported the CBI call, with some caveats. Since the late 1990s the number of UK-born graduates studying mathematics and science degrees has fallen by almost 70%, noted Brown.
“We believe the government would be better off encouraging businesses to put in place school leavers programme where companies support individuals throughout their studies and offer employment at the end of these courses, he added. “ This will ensure students have a clear career path and avoids any pitfalls, such as students studying for courses purely because they do not incur any tuition fees rather than having an interest in the subject. “
Brown was particularly concerned about the shortage of people with the relevant skills to tackle growing cyber security risks. “A lack of skilled talent is a global issue within the cyber security sector but it is particularly acute in the UK, where government and companies are fiercely competing to recruit the brightest talent to their teams from a very small pool,” he warned.
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