STEM skills are vital for the UK's productivity

A report released today by the Public Accounts Committee highlights the need for greater focus on STEM skills for the UK’s productivity.

Among the many points highlighted within the report was the need to encourage more children to take STEM subjects and enter STEM careers, as well as the challenges of gender imbalance in several areas of STEM learning and work, with only 8% of STEM apprenticeship starts undertaken by women. 

These are prevailing issues which will come into even starker relief as we anticipate the potential impact of Brexit on the UK’s skills mix and the needs of Industry 4.0.

What The Growth Company is doing to help

Earlier this year, we addressed some of these key challenges at the Industry 4.0 Summit where we debated the broader impact of industrial digitalisation on the manufacturing sector and wider economy and showcased what we, and our partners, are doing to affect positive change.

One such highlight was the work of The Manufacturing Institute (TMI) which has been successful in opening up the sector to young people who might not have been aware of the breadth of opportunities on offer.

Last year, they ran their annual series of Make It Challenges for more than 1,500 13 and 14 year-olds who were able to form mini-manufacturing companies and work with industry experts to work on projects such as designing new aircraft or refreshing branding to increase sales. As a result, 63 per cent of the young participants said they would consider a career in manufacturing – which was a 20% increase in interest levels compared to before the challenges began.

It was also interesting to note that it was a group of girls who walked away with the top prize at the Challenge Grand Final, suggesting that barriers to females taking STEM subjects and following STEM careers is not due to a lack of interest or aptitude, but perhaps one of lack of awareness. Since the Make It programme started, over 60,000 young people and teachers have participated directly in hands-on manufacturing-focused activities that have been proven to improve their perceptions of careers in manufacturingrelated businesses.

Within the wider Growth Company, we’re focused on delivering high-quality STEM apprenticeships from TMI’s Higher Level 7 MSc Apprenticeship in Operations Management to a Level 4 Software Developer apprenticeship, which is a unique industry-led programme that is playing its part in helping to close the digital skills gap.

Across GC we focus on supporting businesses to grow, addressing barriers to productivity, and ensuring workforce development and skills needs are met. With the release of the DfE’s employer skills survey this summer, it will be interesting to get a more detailed picture of skills supply and demand. I know we’ll be ready to respond with the same kind of drive and innovation that has enabled us to make such a positive contribution to productivity and inclusive growth to date.

Donna Edwards

MD of Business Support and Business Finance