How Can The Education System Bridge The UK Skills Gap?

The issue of shortage of skills in job markets has become prevalent in most countries around the world.  The UK is one of the countries that are currently facing skills shortage: our literacy gap is twice the OECD average of 6.5% and more than half of British businesses are experiencing a shortage of skilled staff in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).  This problem cannot be solved by getting more graduates in those fields, but by teaching them the qualities, creativity and skills that are needed most in those fields.  Some of the countries facing STEM skills shortage such as Sweden, the USA and the Netherlands are addressing the issue in a number of innovative ways that we can also adopt in the UK.

What part can education play?

Classroom collaboration

Schools have a role to play by enabling departments to work together and creating projects that can be taught to students across all disciplines.  Such initiatives help in improving engagement in the classroom and areas taught are revisited on a regular basis.  For instance, when students in San Diego are taught about a concept in Physics, the topic becomes part of their creative writing task and they finish by developing art projects.  Once the projects are complete, they present their work to their colleagues, teachers, parents and entrepreneurs.

School-Businesses partnerships

Entrepreneurs need to know the benefits they stand to gain from collaborating with schools to address the STEM skills shortage gap.  Through partnerships, students have the opportunity to see and practice what they’ve learnt in class and get to build their skills in the process.  In Stenungsund, Western Sweden, the petrochemical companies in the region work closely with local schools.  They have invested in the schools by supplying them with some of the machines they use in the industry so that students can use them for practical lessons.

Support from the three key stakeholders

The link between schools, the government and the industry is often overlooked, yet they all have a great impact on the issue.  This STEM skills shortage can only be fully addressed through cohesion between the three bodies.  For instance in Ohio, policy makers established the Ohio STEM Network, an initiative which aims at  getting businesses, schools and the government to work together to increase the number of graduates in certain areas.  Some of the main aspects of the Network include; high quality training in schools, partial funding of students’ degrees and the setting up of STEM schools by the industry.  The moment such sustainable projects are implemented in the UK, the skills gap can be addressed now and in future.

How can businesses protect themselves?

The National Productivity Investment Fund is expected to push £1bn into training, with a further £2.5bn from the apprenticeship levy by 2020.  Even so, robust workforce planning will remain critical in understanding if your business has a gap and how it can be bridged.

Adam Gibson is a global leader in Workforce Planning, creator of the Agile Workforce Planning methodology and a popular keynote speaker.  He has successfully implemented and transformed workforce planning and people analytics in businesses across both the public and private sector. As a consultant, he advises company executives on how to create a sustainable workforce that increases productivity and reduces cost; he is also the head of CIPD’s workforce planning faculty.