By Daniel Hunter

Nearly six in ten employers of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates surveyed think there is a skills gap in the UK, a new study by MathWorks in collaboration with YouGov shows.

The “STEM Skills Gap Report” surveyed more than 300 employers and 24 of the country’s leading Russell Group academics and found that 59% of businesses and 79% of universities surveyed believe there aren’t enough skilled candidates leaving education to meet industry’s employment requirements.

The survey also demonstrates a need for greater collaboration between academics and businesses. More than half of both groups say that working together closely is needed - vital as the study also reveals that universities’ approach to teaching STEM subjects does not always marry with the needs of employers.

Key findings:

The extent of the skills gap:

· More than six in ten (61%) business leaders and 68% of academics who think there is a skills gap believe it will take over ten years to close
· More than eight in ten (83%) businesses and almost nine in ten (89%) academics think the skills gap needs to be bridged in order for the UK to be competitive in the world economy
· More than half of both groups (51% of industry and 53% of academics) believe investment in the teaching of STEM in Further Education and Higher Education is not as high as in other countries.

Industry and academia collaboration:

· Universities and businesses polled are united in a belief that the skills gap can be mitigated with greater collaboration between academia and industry. Over half (52%) of employers and almost two-thirds (64%) of academics included in our survey think that industry does not currently work closely enough with universities
· While more than six in ten (63%) businesses think industry should have a greater say and make a greater investment in the STEM curriculum in the UK, universities are less enthusiastic, with just 46% welcoming this extent of industry involvement
· Of academics who want industry to have more say in the STEM curriculum, all respondents want industry to provide workplace experience to students in STEM subjects. 82% would welcome guest experts from industry to give talks at schools and universities.

Different approaches to closing the gap:

· Whereas more than six in ten (61%) businesses surveyed think there needs to be more project-based learning in STEM subjects, to engage students in the investigation of science and real world engineering problems, only a third (34%) of academics polled think the same
· While more than half (56%) of employers believe students cannot reach their potential in the area without project-based learning, this view is shared by just over a third (37%) of academics

Dr. Coorous Mohtadi, MathWorks says: “This report tells us two important things. First, that more needs to be done to encourage students to study STEM subjects in tertiary education. Second, that STEM curricula need to better reflect the requirements of industry, bearing in mind that during their careers students will need to solve problems that are not yet known, using technologies that haven’t been invented yet.

The different approaches to addressing the STEM skills gap are interesting and highlight the need for greater collaboration between industry and academia; understanding what is required of graduates in the workplace, and how teaching approaches can better meet the needs of industry, in order to equip students with the right skills to enter the workforce and for their ongoing careers.”

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