How Apprenticeships Can Address the UK STEM Skill Shortage

The UK is facing a crisis when it comes to STEM skilled workers. Nationwide, we're experiencing a shortage of workers who have skills in STEM which is overall affecting the economy.

According to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the cost of this skills shortage is around £1.5 billion every year.

To address the issue, apprenticeships are a promising solution. Experts are highlighting the importance of apprenticeship programmes to employers and encouraging them to do everything they can to appeal to young people and attract them to take a STEM-based apprenticeship. industrial pump repairs experts Houghton International, look further into this.

The increasing shortage

The current STEM skills shortage is a problem that will continue if not addressed now. According to the Royal Academy of Engineering, more than half of engineering companies say they’ve had problems recruiting experienced engineers. This demand for skilled and experienced engineers is set to increase considerably over the next three to five years, but what is causing this gap?

There is the problem of an ageing workforce to contend with too. As skilled and experienced engineers retire, engineering vacancies are increased across many roles. Putting a more exact figure on this is EngineeringUK, through detailed analysis they’ve determined that there are annually 29,000 too few workers with level 3 skills and an even greater shortage of more qualified engineers.

The problem is further aggravated by Brexit. There is also a shortage of diversity across roles. At present, under 10% of the engineering workforce is female, while those from minority ethnic backgrounds make up just 6% of the workforce.

The apprenticeship schemes

In the past, people were expected to start work after they leave school. Nowadays, students have a choice, whether it’s A-levels, BTECs or apprenticeships which are growing in popularity. In the 2016-2017 academic year, 491,300 people started an apprenticeship, with almost a quarter of those under the age of 19. Each month, an average of 23,000 apprenticeship opportunities are listed on the government’s Find an Apprenticeship site, while organisations such as WISE, which campaigns for gender balance in STEM roles, are continually to help grow the number of apprentices in STEM.

Commenting on the matter at hand, CEO of Houghton International, Michael Mitten said: “Apprenticeships have been an important part of our business since it first started over 30 years ago and I firmly believe they have been key to our growth throughout this time. As we expand further, our continued investment in apprenticeships is fundamental to ensuring we can maintain a skilled workforce for years to come.”

The Financial Times commented that apprenticeship programme themselves could be creating issues. Between May and July 2017, parliamentary statistics show that only 43,600 people began an apprenticeship, which is a 61% reduction compared to stats from 2016. This has been largely accredited to an apprenticeship levy that was introduced in April 2017, which every employer with a pay bill of more than £3 million a year must adhere to if they want to employ apprentices.

However, this has not impacted the level of STEM related apprenticeships. In 2016/17, 112,000 people started a STEM apprenticeship increasing from 95,000 in 2012/13. This shows a sign that STEM employers responding to the warning and being creative with their recruitment processes.

STEM apprenticeships Improvements

The UK government is aiming to have three million apprenticeship starts by 2020. So, it’s possible to expect more initiatives that encourage programmes like these in all sectors, but more work must be done to hit this lofty figure.

STEM careers need to be presented as a positive career choice at school level to inspire children early on. Career advisors should make it clearer to kids that a university degree is not the only avenue to success and that the same level of fulfilment and opportunity is available with STEM apprenticeship programmes.

Using incentives can be beneficial too. Already, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) offers around £1 million in prizes, scholarships and awards

It is important that apprenticeships are presented as valuable and viable paths for young people to choose if they are to ease the burden of a STEM-skill shortage on the UK economy.

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