Tackle the skills gap, don’t just recognise it

Jason Ford - News Editor, The EngineerJason Ford
News editor

The thing about skills shortages is that everyone is aware that they exist but are at a loss about rectifying the situation.

Initiatives are launched to help reverse the trend but the figures still aren’t adding up when it comes to situations vacant and the fresh talent available to fill them.

This situation came into focus with morning with a green paper outlining the government’s Industrial Strategy and its suggestion that the delivery of technical education be rethought.

The green paper outlines 10 so-called strategic pillars, the second of which is centred on developing skills. It states: ‘We must help people and businesses to thrive by: ensuring everyone has the basic skills needed in a modern economy; building a new system of technical education to benefit the half of young people who do not go to university; boosting STEM skills, digital skills and numeracy; and by raising skill levels in lagging areas.

Research published last week by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) found that science, research, engineering and technology jobs will grow at double the rate of other occupations. This will see the creation of 142,000 extra new jobs between now and 2023, a rate of growth driven in part by the pace of infrastructure investment and digital innovation.

The ‘Jobs of the Future’ report analysed government data and examined trends in the growth of science, research, engineering and technology jobs to identify areas of growth in terms of sector and region. The research predicts that computing skills will be the most in demand with the highest number of new jobs (25%). Demand for traditional science and engineering-focussed areas such as research and development and specialised construction will remain high due to aforementioned infrastructure projects.


The report was commissioned by EDF as part of its ‘Pretty Curious’ programme to inspire more girls to consider science and technology careers.

Unsurprisingly, the report found that to recruit the numbers needed to fulfil the expected demand for roles in 2023, more girls will need to study science subjects at school, further education and higher education. In 2016 there were an estimated 462,000 women working in science, research, engineering and technology (19%); if there was gender parity that number would be 1.2 million, claims EDF. In addition, women are particularly underrepresented in the roles and industries identified in the report as likely to see the most job openings in the future, such as in computing services (16%), architecture (10%), specialist construction (8%) and construction (13%).

Sarah Flannigan, chief information officer at EDF Energy said: “We are building the first new nuclear power station for a generation. We rely on the talents of people with a variety of STEM skills and recognise the critical need to inspire more young women to enter these fields. That is why we’re aiming to increase our intake of female STEM apprentices to 30% by 2018 and we hope by using innovative technology that appeals to teens, we will reach more girls and inspire them to consider science and technology careers.”

According to EDF, ‘Pretty Curious’ is a long-term programme that aims to demonstrate the range of career opportunities available through pursuing STEM subjects at school. It also provides teenage girls with hands-on STEM experiences at workshops and events. The new virtual-reality film immerses girls in the worlds of three successful women working in the most in demand STEM-related industries in 2023, the year those currently choosing their GCSEs will graduate. EDF Energy’s virtual reality film can be viewed at edfenergy.com/prettycurious