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CBI calls for Government action on skills shortage

13 March, 2014

The CBI (Confederation of British Industry) is calling for action to make careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) more attractive and easier to access. In a new report, Engineering our Future, the CBI urges the Government to consider: financing a cut in tuition fees for some Stem courses; developing new training routes for existing workers; and creating a one-year crossover qualification.

In the report, the CBI argues that the UK is facing a skills crunch – especially for skilled technicians – in strategically important industrial sectors. To help solve this shortage, the CBI is calling for:

•  a possible reduction of fees for some Stem courses to attract more students, and the development of one-year crossover courses at 18 to help young people to switch back to Stem in preparation for a related degree;

•  new collaborative training schemes to progress apprenticeships, and retraining to meet the need for skilled technicians;

•  setting gender diversity targets in sixth forms, colleges and universities to boost female participation in key subjects such as physics and maths; and

•  using funding from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills to help firms to retrain older workers in Stem shortage areas.

“Growth and jobs in the future will depend on the UK having a workforce that can exploit new technologies and discoveries,” says the CBI’s chief policy director, Katja Hall. “The growing skills vacuum is threatening the recovery, as demand from firms is outstripping supply.

“Highly-skilled workers are essential for our growth sectors and it will be those young people with science and maths who will go on to become the engineers and new tech entrepreneurs of tomorrow,” she adds.

“The Government must explore if it's possible to reduce the costs of some of these courses and create a one-year crossover qualification at 18 for those who turned away from science and maths after GCSEs, but now want to take a related degree.

“But it is increasingly clear that the really problematic shortages are at the skilled technician level," Hall continues. "We do have to play a long game on skills, creating more apprenticeships, but we also need policies for the short-term, including retraining existing workers with in-demand skills in key sectors.”

Hall: the skills vacuum is threatening the recovery

The CBI report argues that unless the true value of Stem-related qualifications and jobs are publicised and more routes to such careers are created – especially for women – businesses will continue to struggle in their recruitment, threatening the long-term health of the economy.

Other recommendations in the CBI report include:

• developing the capacity of schools to make the three sciences available as a choice for every young person;

•  the Government adopting a more robust approach to funding for Stem in universities – making clear both the reason for, and the scale of, the subsidy they deliver as a tool to communicate the subjects’ importance;

•  supporting the development of more University Technical Colleges and Studio Schools;

•  businesses and the Government working together to align and expand Stem programmes in schools and share best practice; and

•  relaxing equivalent or lower qualification rules around part-time Stem students should be expanded to enable more older workers to retrain at university level.

A 2013 CBI/Pearson survey showed that 42% of firms faced difficulties recruiting individuals with Stem skills and knowledge.




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