Acute high-tech skills shortage revealed

At a time of record employment rates, British businesses are struggling to recruit qualified workers in high-tech fields at a cost of more than £1.5 billion a year.

The STEM Skills Indicator reveals there are 173,000 vacancies in roles that require training in science, technology, engineering or maths, with seven in 10 (73%) affected businesses saying they’ve found it more difficult to hire staff with the required skills in the last 12 months.

Worst affected are businesses in the Research and Development intensive sectors central to the UK’s Industrial Strategy. Supply is most challenging in engineering, where 90% of hirers say the situation has worsened. Pharmaceuticals, healthcare and accountancy and financial technology are also heavily affected (over 80%).

STEM Learning, which commissioned the research, finds the shortfall is costing £1.5 billion a year in recruitment, temporary staffing, inflated salaries and additional training costs, with nearly half (48%) of affected businesses looking overseas to fill vacancies. A majority (63%) of affected businesses believe that Brexit is likely to exacerbate the skills shortage.

"In a fast-moving technological environment, companies need to start investing to secure a sustainable pipeline of talent now. We are therefore calling for business to join our efforts to inspire young people in local schools and colleges and help grow the future workforce."

The shortage of skilled STEM labour is making recruitment more onerous for most businesses (89%), taking on average 31 days longer than expected. This is forcing many to turn to expensive temporary staffing solutions (74%), hire at lower levels (65%), train staff in-house (83%) or inflate salaries (76%) by as much as £10,900 in larger companies to attract the right talent.

Almost half (48%) of affected businesses are looking abroad to find STEM skills, while six in 10 (60%) have been forced to leave positions empty, fuelling concerns that the UK could fall behind other countries in terms of technological advancement (54%) or lose its R&D credentials (43%).

Investing in STEM is key to maintain the UK’s reputation for its skilled workforce. The UK Government is investing over £400 million in mathematics, digital and technical education, but businesses facing recruitment challenges say low awareness of the jobs available (31%) and a lack of meaningful work experience opportunities (35%) are key barriers to young people considering careers.

In a fast-moving technological environment, companies need to start investing to secure a sustainable pipeline of talent now. We are therefore calling for business to join our efforts to inspire young people in local schools and colleges and help grow the future workforce.

Yvonne Baker, Chief Executive, STEM Learning said:

“We are heading towards a perfect storm for innovative business in the UK; a very real skills crisis at a time of uncertainty.

“We need to be in a better position to home grow our talent and it cannot be left to government or schools alone – businesses also have a crucial role to play.

“By working with us to invest in teachers in local schools and colleges, employers can help deliver a world-leading STEM education, inspiring young people and building the pipeline of talent in their area.”

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