How can the skills shortage be addressed in STEM businesses?
By Will Davies and Emma-Mai Eshelby
Last year the STEM Skills Indicator revealed a shortfall of over 173,000 workers within STEM businesses in the UK. A study undertaken in 2018 by STEM Learning valued this shortfall at £1.5bn to businesses each year, generated through recruitment, temporary staffing, inflated salaries and additional training costs. This shortfall is set to get worse over the next 10 years with an estimated 700,000 employees within the construction industry due for retirement.
To address the skills gaps, employers established University Technical Colleges (UTCs) within their local areas, which now number 50 colleges across England. UTCs are schools for 14-19-year-olds that deliver technical STEM education alongside core curriculum subjects. In 2012, PBA, now part of Stantec, assisted as a Lead Partner for UTC Reading, providing advice on curriculum content, product and service donations and work experience opportunities.
UTC Reading and UTC Heathrow, who both belong to the Activate Learning Education Trust (ALET) launched the UTC Pipeline Programme in 2017 for Key Stage 5 students, working with industry partners in the IT and Engineering sectors to provide four pipeline days each year with students, to develop skills that young people need to succeed in the workplace.
For the 2018/19 academic year, PBA ran a series of four workshops for approximately 25 students from both Reading and Heathrow UTCs. The purpose of the UTC pipeline programme is to disseminate PBA’s knowledge and passion in engineering to the students, and further develop their technical and employability skills that will allow them to have the best possible start in their professional careers.
The UTC pipeline programme project managers organised, prepared and delivered the four workshops over 6 months. The workshops were themed around civil engineering, structural engineering, water management and environmental planning. The workshops comprised of group activities, technical presentations and mentoring sessions.
Keeping some consistency throughout the programme, workshops comprised of the following:
- Technical presentations introducing the students to engineering disciplines, PBA projects and the knowledge and skills required for the rest of the workshop.
- Multiple interactive group activities designed by PBA’s graduates and apprentices to put into practice what the students have previously learned.
- Mentoring sessions to practice employability skills with the students and build a more personal rapport.
Following the completion of the UTC pipeline programme, PBA has offered summer work experience placements to 7 students to be hosted at the Reading office which turned out to be a huge success.
Feedback on the success of the UTC Pipeline Programme has been provided by Michael Halliday, Head of Employer Engagement Strategy for ALET. He said:
“Feedback from the first Pipeline Day has already proved that the model is far more valuable to a student than traditional outreach activities, and this will enable us to refine the format of future Pipeline Days this year with our partners, to support our students in developing clear aspirations for careers within our specialisms.”