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Sharper focus needed on skills crucial to UK productivity

22 June 2018

The Public Accounts Committee report warns of potential Brexit impact and calls for action on gender imbalances.

Government is not well placed to understand the extent of the challenge

STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and maths) are crucial for the UK's productivity, and a shortage of STEM skills in the workforce is one of our key economic problems.

The future workforce relies on many more children and young people being encouraged to take STEM subjects and enter STEM careers.

Government is not well placed to understand the extent of the challenge and ensure the supply of STEM skills, especially in the context of withdrawal from the European Union.

Need to address marked gender imbalances

In particular, there remains a need to address marked gender imbalances in several areas of STEM learning and work—demonstrated, for example, by the fact that only 8% of STEM apprenticeship starts are undertaken by women.

The quality of careers advice in schools is patchy at best, perpetuating misconceptions about STEM careers. In addition, the way that schools are funded will restrict the likelihood of pupils moving to other, more STEM-focused learning providers, such as the new institutes of technology.

To make better informed decisions, departments also need to tackle the apparent lack of industry and commercial experience on their STEM boards and working groups.

Chair's comments

Comment from Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP:

"Warm words about the economic benefits of STEM skills are worth little if they are not supported by a coherent plan to deliver them.

Government must take a strategic view, properly informed by the requirements of industry and the anticipated impact of Brexit on the UK's skills mix.

But Government also needs to sharpen its focus on the details, from providing sound advice to pupils through to ensuring schools have the right skills in the classroom and STEM-focused institutions are properly supported.

Poor-quality apprenticeships must be weeded out and there is still much work required to address the striking gender imbalance in STEM apprenticeships.

This is a challenging and long-term project but there are practical steps the Government can and should be taking now."

Further information

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