The UK is in the midst of one of its worst skills shortages, and according to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, 43 per cent of science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) vacancies are hard to fill. This is due to the shortage of skilled workers in these industries, as well as a lack of qualified teachers in schools, and higher education.
The four industries suffering the most from the skills shortage are construction, engineering, digital, and programming. Here, we’ll take a look at what they are facing in terms of issues, as well as what could be done to fix the shortage in these areas.
Skills shortages in construction
The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said construction wages rose by a massive 6 per cent in 2015, which was well ahead of the 2 percent average across the UK. But this was due to not having enough workers in the entire sector. RICS have predicted the skills shortage could impact 27,000 construction projects each year until 2019, and 66 per cent of surveying firms have been forced to turn down work due to a lack of staff.
The government had been told that the construction industry in the UK could lose over 175,000 EU workers — or 8 per cent of the sector’s workforce — if the country doesn’t retain access to the European single market following Brexit. It’s important to maintain a good relationship to encourage skilled workers to remain in the UK to fill these gaps in the industry, or risk having even less staff to fill the jobs.
Skills shortages in engineering
Like the construction industry, the engineering industry is currently plugging the skills shortage with skilled workers from the EU, however, this option may also be limited following Brexit, which will ultimately worsen the shortage. There is currently a 20,000-a-year shortfall in the number of skilled workers being produced by the education system. Engineering UK found an additional 1.8 million engineers and technically qualified workers will be needed by 2025. So, how do we rectify this deficit?
The IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology) found that 50 per cent of engineers are due to retire by 2020. David Landsman, the UK boss of Tata, which makes steel and Jaguar Land Rover cars, explained the UK needs a thriving engineering sector post-Brexit and explained we need to “boost the number of home-grown engineers”. It’s up to the education system to encourage an interest in engineering within students, which ultimately means having skilled teachers ready and willing to teach the subject.
Currently, students looking to get into the engineering industry can opt for a degree or an apprenticeship, and students can pick which option is better suited to them. While degrees may offer some benefits, apprenticeships offer on-the-job learning, allowing students to get straight into working in the industry, which can only help lessen the shortage of skilled workers.
Skills shortage in the digital sector
A survey by the British Chambers of Commerce found that a massive three out of four UK businesses believe there is a digital skills shortage, with 84 per cent of firms believing digital and IT skills are more important to their business than two years ago. A further 41 percent of companies claimed that a lack of time for staff training is one of the main reasons behind this shortage of skills.
Another reason behind this shortfall could be a lack of support for students in schools and a lack of interest in the digital sector from a young age. One way to tackle this could be to put more focus on students in schools to encourage an interest in IT, which is where problems seem to stem from. Last summer, only 15,000 UK students sat an A-level in IT, which accounted for less than 2 percent of the overall exams sat, which is far below the growing number of jobs being created in the digital sector every year. This could be due to a lack of support in school, so investing in teaching existing IT teachers newer and up-to-date skills to use in lessons could help boost interest within students.
Skills shortage in programming
Much like the digital sector, businesses are struggling to find skilled programmers, particularly with Java skills. In an attempt to overcome the deficiency, businesses have drastically raised the wage of a programmer, offering an incentive for skilled workers to apply and stay in the job. An effort is also in place to introduce coding in schools, and encourage primary school students to learn more about the digital sector. After-school coding classes have been set up across the UK, however as this is volunteer-based, it could be worth investing in teaching existing IT teachers coding skills to include this in the curriculum, giving all students more digital savvy.
Encouraging more students into these sectors, and helping to stem what could be serious shortfalls in the next 10 years, requires more visibility for courses in STEM and digital fields. Those looking to retrain or reapply their skills may find that now is the perfect time to get an FE job.