STEM outreach group warns about UK skills shortage

Article by Adam Duckett

A SHORTAGE of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills is costing UK businesses £1.5bn (US$2bn) a year in recruitment and staffing costs, a new survey has found.

STEM Learning, which provides education and careers support in the UK, says a survey of HR executives at 400 businesses working in the STEM industries found that 89% have struggled to hire staff with the required skills in the last 12 months. It estimates that there is a current shortfall of more than 173,000 workers, an average of ten unfilled roles per business.

STEM Learning is concerned for business that these staff shortages come as the UK government is developing a modern Industrial Strategy, the outcome on Brexit remains uncertain, and schools are facing severe funding challenges.

Yvonne Baker, CEO of STEM Learning and an IChemE Member, said: “We are heading towards a perfect storm for STEM businesses in the UK – a very real skills crisis at a time of uncertainty for the economy and as schools are facing unprecedented challenges.”

Because of skills shortages, 89% of those surveyed reported that the recruitment process is taking longer – on average 31 days more than expected. This has forced 74% to use more expensive temporary staffing; 65% have hired at lower levels; and 76% have inflated salaries to attract the right talent. Furthermore, 70% are hiring candidates without a STEM background for STEM-related jobs, and 60% have reported leaving positions empty.

“The shortage is a problem for employers, society and the economy, and in this age of technological advancement the UK has to keep apace. We need to be in a better position to home grow our talent but it cannot be left to government or schools alone – businesses have a crucial role to play too,” Baker said.

Claire Cooke, who manages IChemE’s Whynotchemeng careers campaign, joined Baker in calling on employers to support STEM Learning’s activities.

“IChemE has long encouraged companies to support those chemical engineers in their teams who are keen to engage with schools and inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists.

“STEM Learning provides excellent resources and support for volunteers, and I would encourage IChemE members and their employers to find out more at” Cooke added.

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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