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Students at the launch of GO4SET, Viridor's STEM programme in partnership with Engineering Development Trust

Shifting the shortage

Martin Grey says we need to address the STEM skills shortage to build the green economy

Posted by Stephanie Broad | May 18, 2016 | Sustainability

Some 10 million young people in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are currently in school. Today, as we face up to a national shortage of employees with STEM skills, there are ten million reasons for businesses to encourage STEM subject uptake amongst these students to facilitate the move towards a green economy.

The EU circular economy package, currently under discussion, will drive significant STEM opportunities for the UK. The Green Alliance states that by 2030, on a current trajectory, the circular economy could create over 200,000 gross jobs and reduce unemployment by about 54,000.  It could have the potential to offset around seven per cent of the expected decline in skilled employment by 2022.

More extensive expansion of circular economy initiatives could more than double these figures, creating around half a million jobs and potentially offsetting around 18% of the expected loss in skilled employment over the next decade.

The UK needs a fresh focus on young people, their motivators and how to connect the potential of careers in a green economy

But how do we attract the engineers necessary to build our infrastructure or the scientists and technologists to operate our kit?  UK engineering could contribute £27bn to the economy every year by 2022 if the country can meet demands for a quarter of a million new vacancies in the same timeframe.

The 2014 Global Talent Shortage Survey highlighted the top three shortages as skilled trades, engineers and technicians. A separate survey noted a year-on-year increase from 12 to 19% of firms reporting difficulties in finding suitable graduate recruits. Just the people we need. No wonder the UK Commission for Employment and Skills points to economic growth being restrained by skills shortages.

The UK needs a fresh focus on young people, their motivators and how to connect the potential of careers in a green economy. In a recent survey, only eight per cent of employers felt they were doing enough to prepare the future workforce, with 53% interested in actively engaging with secondary schools and 32% at primary level.

Aligning with national partners like the Engineering Development Trustc (EDT) or BITC’s Business Class allows interventions at critical education pathways, influencing school and career choices and, ultimately, talent pipelines.

Of the students undertaking EDT’s six-month Engineering Education Scheme, 91% went on to choose a STEM degree, with 77% entering STEM employment following graduation.

But it is not only graduates where we need to focus.  We need to accelerate opening new routes to employment – structured placement programmes, work-trials, apprenticeships and Year in Industry partnerships. 

For example, 18 year-old Lucy Matters joined Viridor from Central Sussex College on a business apprenticeship with Viridor’s West Sussex logistics teams. She joined 22 others on live Viridor apprenticeships and 85 who have undergone the South West Water programme – a ‘Top 100 Apprenticeship Employer’.

We need to think again about young people like Lucy. Businesses with a need for skilled STEM employees need to reconsider and realign their education ‘offer’. We need to speak the new language of a technology-rich ‘generation next’ and adapt our learning and working environments to match.

Martin Grey is Head of Public Affairs for Viridor UK

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