We are still not delivering in science. "We need to inspire at primary school level."
Growing STEM skill shortages are a real concern for businesses across the UK, with too few young people choosing science. There is a pipeline issue for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) in the UK. We simply do not have enough young people studying these subjects to a higher level – or choosing careers in sectors dependent on them. This is what stands behind the growing skills gap that CBI members report – they now see the lack of skills in key areas as the biggest people-related threat to UK competitiveness.
Yet participation at secondary level remains disappointing. At GCSE level in England, where science remains compulsory, a worryingly low number of young people study separate sciences – with entries falling by 18.6% in biology, 16.8% in chemistry and 14.6% in physics in recent years.
At A Level, we see a further drop off, with just 8.8% studying biology, 7.3% chemistry, 5% physics, and 12.4% studying maths in 2013.
Tackling these pipeline issues must be a priority if we are to ensure that the supply of skills matches the demands of the future economy. Engineering UK, for example, have predicted that engineering employers will need nearly 2m people with engineering skills between 2012 and 2022. This alone will mean that we need to double the number of engineering graduates and apprentices entering the industry.
Changing the impression that science is for boys is also a huge challenge. We know that the number of girls and young women pursuing many STEM subjects is lower than that of their male counterparts – resulting in a STEM workforce with a comparatively low representation of women. This is a challenge that many countries face, although the position in the UK is particularly poor. Urgent action is therefore also needed to ensure that the talent pool for STEM
industries is attractive to both men and women. Last year, the CBI called on sixth forms and colleges to adopt targets for increasing female participation in science as a part of this solution.
In an increasingly integrated international economy, the UK’s ability to grow and succeed will rely on our ability to compete on quality through our high-value sectors, and how we use and enhance the best new technology. Much of
this means we will need our young people to be grounded in science, with a strong understanding of the subject and ability to learn. Yet we already see skills shortages, especially at technician level. We are not yet delivering the pipeline
of science skills we need. Growing STEM skill shortages are a real concern for businesses across the UK, with too few young people choosing science. We need a step-change – but this has to start from primary. A focus on science for this report will help us to identify the key problems…and our survey of teachers will point us towards the key issues.
Tomorrow’s world: Inspiring primary scientists.