UK manufacturing needs more STEM skilled workers

Dick ElsyI was very disappointed to read today that the Further Education Association’s survey among 6th Form Colleges showed that almost a quarter of responding Colleges reported cuts in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths subjects due to financial pressures. This is worrying news. It shows again that all industry, education, government and training providers need to take joined-up, strategic action to establish and protect training capability and capacity and align skills provision with employer needs.

The latest figures on the UK economy and the UK’s manufacturing sector show a slowing down of growth and a downward adjustments of forecasts. Whilst this is linked to the economic turmoil in the Eurozone and elsewhere, and whilst the World Bank still ranks the UK in the top 10 global manufacturing nations, it is clear that there is no room for complacency if we want to protect and expand our place on the world stage.

Manufacturing is key to a balanced economy in this country. Manufacturing productivity improved at 2.5 times the rate of the rest of the economy, making the sector also key to addressing our productivity gap. We may struggle to compete on low cost high volume production, but we can very effectively compete at high end advanced technology innovation in high value manufacturing. To be successful in that field, however, we need world class people with the right skills to work on the latest technologies, and to develop the next generation of technologies and applications.

In 2013, the Foresight report stated that UK industry would need more than 880,000 additional skilled people to work in the field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). In 2014, engineering employers at the EEF national conference stated a shortage of higher skills as a major barrier to competitiveness, yet the UK’s ability to educate, train and retain such skilled workers continues to fall behind demand. So the issue is well documented and it has to be addressed.

The HVMC and EEF are working together on the development of a National College for Advanced Manufacturing that will focus on skills delivery for higher apprenticeship and above. Working with the best established training providers and linking them to centres of innovation such as those in the HVM Catapult will enable us to increase the number of people entering the labour market with the right skills to work on the latest technologies and add real value to the UK’s productivity and competitiveness. This will work best when there is a strong flow of high calibre STEM educated candidates and I would urge colleges not to make cuts in this critical area.

Dick Elsy, CEO High Value Manufacturing Catapult

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