Current state of the UK STEM industry

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Construction | Engineering | News

STEM skills are important for the economy in terms of “innovation and growth”. Individuals who possess these skills can be met with job opportunities, and more educational institutions and employers are encouraging students to study STEM related courses.

The majority of STEM related careers are found in the tradables industry, and this includes engineering and construction products/services. Jobs within the tradables industry are considered the main drivers of growth for the economy.

The state of the STEM industry today

The importance of the UK’s STEM industry was definitely highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The demand for scientists and engineers when it came to developing a vaccine, or building ventilators to help fight against the virus, was high and showcased the need for more individuals to follow STEM related career paths.

However, there are many concerns that the UK’s technological advancements will lag behind other countries around the world. Although STEM skills make for increased employability, they are costly and have resulted in £1.5 billion being spent a year on things such as training and recruitment. Employers are now looking into alternatives, like searching abroad for potential employees or even hiring candidates with no previous experience in the industry. Many graduates also do not enter STEM related fields due to becoming dissatisfied or finding higher paid non-STEM jobs.

Construction and Engineering

Construction already has 3 billion jobs within the sector, making up 10% of the UK’s workforce, whilst the engineering sector is made up of almost 5.7 million people – 19% of the UK’s workforce. There are positive signs of growth in the UK and the global construction market is forecasted to expand over 70% within the next 5 years (source: UK Commission for Employment and Skills).

As beneficial as it is to the economy, there are many issues with this particular STEM related sector. A study conducted in 2016 showed that buildings accounted for 67% of electricity used in the UK (source: Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy).  For the construction industry this means that the building of homes needs to become more efficient, in order for us to behave more environmentally friendly.

Demand in the engineering industry is extremely high – partly due to historical products having been developed in the UK. This has caused other global companies to want to base their operations here. The creation of new job roles, especially in data analytics and robotics has only added to this. Cyber security, design engineering and Artificial Intelligence are just some of the sectors that are in high demand.

Despite this, there is a shortfall of between 37,000 and 59,000 (source: Engineering UK).  Over 14 million jobs were estimated to become available between 2014 and 2024, to solve demands due to replacements or expansions. However a shortage of engineers in the UK may affect this.  An aging workforce has contributed to the skills shortage. 19.5% of engineers and technicians are expected to retire by 2026, leading to a lack of “skills, knowledge, and experience” (source: Jonathan Lee).

The future of STEM in the UK

The introduction of new technologies means that the construction and engineering industries will drastically change over the coming years. Engineering will see itself creating new jobs – half of the children in education right now will work in jobs that do not yet exist. The construction sector will also see itself becoming more digitalised. Both areas will experience more development, and there have been predictions that humans will be entirely replaced by Artificial Intelligence by 2050.

Infrastructure as we know it will also change. The invention of new modes of transportation will bring new inventions such as cars run on electricity (like Tesla), and these will undoubtedly become more popular.

The construction and engineering industries have contributed a great amount to pollution. The STEM industry aims to focus on operating more sustainability, targeting areas such as waste elimination and renewable resources. The UK government has pledged to decrease greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050 (and halve them by 2025).

The STEM industry has come a long way but have yet to go to achieve the goals both the engineering and construction sectors have set for themselves.

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