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CBI warns of skills gap vacuum

Demand for higher-level skills, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, could ‘starve’ Britain’s economic growth, the Confederation of British Industry has warned.

The CBI and Pearson surveyed 310 companies and found that 68% of firms expect their need for higher- skilled workers to grow over the next few years. But over half of those surveyed fear they won’t be able to access those skills.

Katja Hall, CBI chief policy director, said: “Growth and jobs in the future will depend on the UK having a workforce that can exploit new technologies and discoveries.

“The growing skills vacuum is threatening the recovery, as demand from firms is outstripping supply.

“Highly-skilled workers are essential for our growth sectors and it will be those young people with science and maths who will go on to become the engineers and new tech entrepreneurs of tomorrow.”

CBI’s ‘Engineering our Future’ report, in which the survey’s results were included, argues that unless the true value of STEM-related qualifications and jobs are better showcased and more routes to such careers are created businesses will continue to struggle in their recruitment, threatening the long-term health of the economy.

Hall said: “The government must explore if it’s possible to reduce the costs of some of these courses and create a one-year crossover qualification at 18 for those who turned away from science and maths after GCSEs, but now want to take a related degree.

“But it is increasingly clear that the really problematic shortages are at skilled technician level. We do have to play a long game on skills, creating more apprenticeships, but we also need policies for the short-term, including retraining existing workers with in-demand skills in key sectors.”

The CBI is also calling for Davies-style targets for women participating in STEM courses from 6th form upwards. It also highlights research showing that STEM-based occupations are relatively well-paid at all skill levels across the country in comparison to non-STEM positions.

Hall added: “The Davies Review has had an impact in the boardroom, now we need a similar focus on the classroom. There is a shameful gender gap in science and technology so we need to transform society’s ideas of the choices women have in their careers.

“Employees with the right skills to work in areas like medicine, engineering and computer science also tend to have higher earnings on average than those who don’t.”