STEM skills shortage - Myth or reality?

Jennifer Dawsonon 21 February 2022
Photo of a row of microscopes in a lab

Some people think there’s a shortage of candidates for STEM roles, but is that really the case? Student Hut investigates.

The perceived STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) skills shortage has had a lot of coverage lately. According to the Engineering Design Show, over 50% of engineering firms find it difficult to recruit and retain staff with the skills and knowledge necessary for the job. You may have considered this when deciding what degree you should do at uni. But is there really a skill shortage in STEM, or is the issue actually employers not understanding what job seekers want?

The myth

It’s clear that STEM employers are struggling to find suitable applicants for their positions. To fix this, the UK government is investing millions into STEM education and establishing many new institutes of technology. But what isn’t clear is whether the gap between positions and skilled applicants is due to a shortage of STEM skills. Advanced Resource Managers conducted a study with 900 participants in STEM companies. They found that for employers, the main challenge was securing talent with the right skillsets.

The study also found that recruiters of STEM candidates don’t know what motivates their target market or how to make their roles more attractive. This suggests that the issue isn’t a lack of education, but rather differences between what job seekers are looking for and what employers are offering. Another study by the University of Leicester found that the majority of science graduates don't work in STEM fields. This suggests that the problem may be down to education, rather than recruitment.

The reality

Although there may not be a shortage of STEM degrees, there appears to be a shortage of specialised skills, according to the deputy director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, Naomi Weir. You can have plenty of STEM graduates, but not all of them will be suitable candidates to work at a biogenetics lab.

A factor that could be exacerbating the skills shortage is the introduction of net zero carbon projects. Specific skills are required to perform certain STEM jobs in an environmentally-friendly way.

It’s also important to note that representation for women and people of colour is still a major issue in STEM. According to the Royal Society, only 1.8% of STEM academic staff aged 34 and under are Black, while women only represent 17-19% of the UK’s tech sector workforce. This suggests that perhaps the real STEM shortage is one of diversity and equity.

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Jennifer Dawsonon 21 February 2022