This is our best chance to address the STEM skills-gap challenge

Nelson Ogunshakin

Nelson Ogunshakin is on a mission to get all ACE member firms signed up behind the Your Life campaign to get more children to study physics and maths.

The growing needs of the UK's engineering industry for skilled members of staff means more young people need to be encouraged to take science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) qualifications in the coming years. 

With investment in large infrastructure projects at a zenith and engineering solutions permeating every aspect of modern day living - from getting to the top of the newly opened Shard building in London to turning on the tap for a glass of water - somewhere along the way an ingenuous engineering solution is undoubtedly the result of something that has been planned, calculated and executed by someone who studied a STEM subject to a smaller or lesser degree

This month Nicola Walker, the Director of Business Environment Policy at the Confederation of British Industry, has said that current estimates show an additional 45,000 highly-skilled workers will be needed by 2021 to simply fill the requirements of the UK's offshore wind industry alone. And this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of future demand for skills across other traditional engineering projects.

Furthermore, figures from the Royal Academy of Engineering show the industry requires at least 50,000 STEM technicians to replace retiring staff every year.

To address the issue, a new government campaign was launched last month to boost the numbers of young people - especially women - studying STEM subjects.

The campaign – called ‘Your Life’ – includes a call to action to increase the number of students taking physics and maths A-level, double the proportion of undergraduate engineering and technology degrees taken by women to 30% by 2030, and ensure more women pursue careers at all levels in the fields of engineering and technology.

"In the coming months I will be engaging with ACE member firms, none of which can afford to ignore this serious issue,  and line up each and everyone of them to sign up to the ‘Your Life’ campaign"

Over 170 organisations  - including universities, research councils, national corporations, schools and colleges, professional bodies, and science campaigners - have signed up to the Call to Action in support. These organisations have also committed to creating over 2,000 new entry level positions including apprenticeships, graduate jobs or paid work experience posts.

At present, women make up 46 per cent of the UK's workforce, but in STEM jobs this figure falls to just 15.5 per cent and highlights an on going gender gap that must be addressed in the years to come if the UK is to remain at the forefront of the global engineering sector. 

In the coming months I will be engaging with ACE member firms, none of which can afford to ignore this serious issue,  and line up each and everyone of them to sign up to the ‘Your Life’ campaign.

Possible measures that could encourage greater participation in STEM careers are subsidised fees for many university courses in this field, as well as the development of one-year crossover courses that can help those young people who did not train in STEM disciplines at GCSE to switch to this area prior to entering higher education.

With popular television presenters such as Dara O‘Briain and Professor Brian Cox appealing to the youth of today – now is one of the best opportunities that has presented itself in recent years to tip the balance and get children enthused and engaged in maths and phyiscs – the very basics of engineering.

Nelson Ogunshakin is chief executive of the Association for Consultancy & Engineering.