Govt invests £52 million to address science skills gap

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Contractors are being used to plug the skills gap across multiple industries, but it is perhaps science-related subjects where demand is at its highest level. This has been primarily attributed to the fact that not enough young talent is choosing STEM subjects and, most importantly, careers.

However, the government is hoping to make this a thing of the past with a wave of new investment focused on new and emerging science talent.

Science minister David Willetts has announced a £52 million fund that will create more than 7,800 education and skills opportunities over the course of two years.

Operated through a new partnership led by GlaxoSmithKline, vocational training and skills programmes will be offered to promote life sciences, chemicals and industrial science sectors.

It is believed the investment will create 1,360 apprenticeships, which will be based on new, employer-owned systems. It is hoped this will create the number of work-ready apprentices needed.

A new work experience programme will also be established in the form of 240 traineeships. These are designed to help youngsters get into careers in science-based subjects.

Furthermore, 150 Industry Degrees will be created. The government says this is a "radical new approach to graduate development", which will focus on building the practical skills needed in the real employment market.

Meanwhile, 230 Modular Masters Modules and 5,900 workforce development opportunities will be created.

A cross-sectoral proposal to attract youngsters into STEM jobs will also be created.

"The science based industries are critical to our future prosperity – and higher skills are the key driver of their competitiveness," Mr Willetts said. "Our investment will help the industry to take the lead investing in the skills they need.

"The government will be contributing £32.6 million, with £20 million from employers, alongside £31 million in-kind contributions. This will fund a range of ultimately self-sustaining activities expected to improve skills in these sectors."

Malcolm Skingle, director and academic liaison at GSK and chair of the SIP board, welcomed the investment. He explained that the life sciences sector is just one that is evolving swiftly and needs the next generation of scientists to have the right skills.

ABPI chief executive Stephen Whitehead added: "The UK’s traditional strength in science has been eroding; science graduates often lack skills useful to industrial research, particularly practical skills, so the focus on high quality training through apprenticeships and other programmes is welcomed."

He said that while the government has been championing science in the UK economy, more needs to be done in partnership with industry to ensure the next generation has what it takes to succeed.

Initiatives such as National Oil and Gas Week should also help to attract more talent into STEM subjects by altering perceptions and raising awareness.

Running across the country annually, the event showcases the achievements of the industry, hosts specialist workshops, runs career sessions, holds debates and sets interactive challenges.

Energy minister Fergus Ewing and business secretary Vince Cable both welcomed the creation of National Oil and Gas Skills Week, which will help to address the skills gap.


By Victoria McDonnell

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