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STEM shortfall risks growth stall

STEM shortfall risks growth stall

🕔15.Nov 2017

The West Midlands is facing a big problem – and it is one that has to be tackled by politicians, business, educators and parents. In short, insufficient children are wanting to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and businesses are facing a drastic shortfall of some 70,000 workers a year, writes Judith Armstrong.

Such a shortfall is harming British industry and the UK economy – and it hits hardest in areas where science, technology, engineering and maths dominate our economy; in other words, the West Midlands. Without a radical change, key growth industries in the West Midlands (and the rest of the UK) risk stalling.

This is not just an issue for business – although business itself must play its part – but something that should concern us all: politicians, business leaders, teachers, educators – as well as parents and grandparents. It’s also a challenge for Mayor Andy Street and the West Midlands Combined Authority.

Attend any business meeting and the three top items on the agenda are inevitably skills shortage, productivity and Brexit. But without the skills, our economy will not be able to tackle the other two – and that is where we need to encourage young people to look at the jobs of the future. And that means STEM.

We are all familiar with the problem.

A survey of business leaders in the region revealed that 77% struggled to find the right people. Meanwhile, the West Midlands has the highest share of unqualified 16-64 years of any UK region with the exception of Northern Ireland. Skills training at level four or above is reported to be 21% for the region – six percentage points below the national average.

There is a gender issue also. Only one fifth of those working in core STEM occupations are women – and they only represent an even more pitiful 14% in science, engineering and technology management.

50,000 girls are turning away from STEM related education every year, turned off by outdated perceptions of manufacturing and engineering – of coal stacks and oil. And yet the reality is that STEM represents the jobs of the future. Look at our technology parks, our vibrant health sector, automotive, engineering and aerospace – all in desperate need of skilled young people who can power those sectors in the future.

We need to radically rethink how we promote, how we encourage and how we inspire. It is not just a task for one area of the community – but for all of us working together.

Millennium Point is far from complacent. The Millennium Point Trust has contributed more than £4m in STEM related initiatives over the past four years. We are developing new shared office space targeted at smaller organisations and start-ups with interests in STEM – and we are entering the fourth year of a ground-breaking scholarship scheme that funds young people through Birmingham City University to study STEM related subjects.

The West Midlands was here at the start of the industrial revolution. We now need to convince our young people that studying STEM offers them great career opportunities also.

Judith Armstrong is chief executive of Millennium Point, Birmingham Eastside’s anchor building which fronts Eastside City Park and is opposite the side of the new HS2 Birmingham Curzon Street Station. The 360,000 sq.ft. building, owned by Millennium Point Trust, provides workspace, offices and studios to tenants, most with interests in STEM.

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