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74% of engineering, science and hi-tech sector in need of highly skilled staff

CBI/Pearson Education and Skills survey finds skills shortage expected to continue as firms struggle to find necessary Stem skills

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of companies in the engineering, science and hi-tech sector demand highly skilled workers to re-balance the economy, according to the CBI/Pearson Education and Skills survey.

In the survey of 310 UK companies, the engineering, science and hi-tech sector had the highest demand, followed closely by construction (73%) and manufacturing (69%).

Across all sectors, 68% of businesses said they expect the need for a higher-skilled workforce to grow in the years ahead. However, just over half (55%) of all firms expressed concerns about finding enough workers with the right skills.

Furthermore, 52% of companies said they have difficulty recruiting staff with the necessary science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) skills and have experienced a three-year shortfall of experienced staff. Some 40% of employers said they prefer staff to have Stem skills.    

“The government has set out to create a high-skilled economy, but firms are facing a skills emergency, which is threatening to starve economic growth,” said Katja Hall, CBI deputy director general. 

“Worryingly, it’s those high-growth, high-value sectors with the most potential that are the ones under most pressure. That includes construction, manufacturing, science, engineering and technology,” she added.

More IT apprenticeships needed

According to Hall, the levy announced in the 2015 Budget is unlikely to equate to higher quality or deliver the skills the industry needs, despite a guarantee for funding for more apprenticeships.

“Levies on training already exist in the construction sector, where two-thirds of employers are reporting skills shortages. Employers have a critical role in upskilling the workforce, but part of the deal must be for real business control of apprenticeships to meet their needs on the ground,” she said.

The best way to plug the skills gaps and provide quality training is to speed up the apprenticeship reforms already underway and encourage smaller firms to get involved, said Hall.

Rod Bristow, UK president of Pearson, said it is essential to improve skills for young people's prospects and for the British economy. 

“Better skills are not only the lifeblood of the UK economy – as fundamental to British businesses as improving infrastructure, technology and transport links – they are also critical to improving young people's life chances and of enabling them to be a success in life and work,” he said.

“The government is right to be ambitious about apprenticeships. We need more higher-level apprenticeships in high-growth sectors like biotech, engineering and technology, as well as traditional ones,” he added.

Inspiring the workforce of the future

However, according to Bristow, Britain's further education sector, which provides the Higher National Diploma courses necessary for developing technical skills, sits on the edge of a funding precipice and may suffer damage for years to come. 

“Proper funding of further education would provide a huge boost to British businesses and productivity. Without improving the supply of skills, the UK will find it hard to remain competitive in the global economy,” he said.

Of the companies questioned, 73% said they would like to see primary schools focus on developing pupils’ literacy and numeracy skills in addition to communications (46%). Some 50% said they would like to see more 14-18 year olds developing a greater awareness of the world outside of school.

“We betray our young people if we fail to equip them with the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to progress in work and life,” said Hall. “We must better support schools and teachers from day one to develop the confidence, resilience and creativity that will help the next generation of talent to succeed.”

“Employers consider attitudes and aptitudes more important than any specific qualification or skill, other than practical literacy and numeracy. 

“They want to see young people gain a greater understanding of the world outside the school gates by inspiring pupils about career opportunities from a much earlier age and by putting work experience back on the agenda for all young people,” she said.

Bristow said that, above all else, employers are looking for education to become a better preparation for the workplace. According to him, communication, teamwork, determination and leadership skills must be nurtured through the education system.

“[This will] enable young people to enter the workplace with confidence and to realise their ambitions in a modern economy,” he said. 

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of all firms said they have some links to schools or colleges and 51% said they have increased their engagement in the past year through work experience (74%) and delivering careers advice and talks (71%).

Some 77% said they are not satisfied with the careers advice currently given in schools and colleges in the UK, with 60% saying they would be willing to play a bigger role in supporting careers advice.

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