CBI: Tuition fee cuts best way to address skills shortage

Friday 14 March 2014

The UK skills shortage has seen contractors come into high demand. However, with workloads rising and staff availability declining, a solution to the talent gap in the UK is needed to help take some of the weight off freelancers and businesses.

According to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the answer could lie in lowering tuition fees for some STEM courses, making careers in science, technology, engineering and maths more attractive and easier to access.

In the 'Engineering our future' report, the body urges the government to fund lower university costs, develop new training routes for existing workers and creating a one-year crossover qualification.

It is believed this will help to ensure key sectors in the British economy, such as manufacturing, creative industries and the green economy, can access the skilled technicians they need.

Katja Hall, CBI chief policy director, said: "Growth and jobs in the future will depend on the UK having a workforce that can exploit new technologies and discoveries. The growing skills vacuum is threatening the recovery, as demand from firms is outstripping supply.

"Highly-skilled workers are essential for our growth sectors and it will be those young people with science and maths who will go on to become the engineers and new tech entrepreneurs of tomorrow."

By lowering STEM tuition fees, it is hoped more students will be attracted to these industries, while a one-year crossover course will help people get back into STEM. This is an approach already used by the legal profession.

Introducing more collaborative training solutions will also help to get people interested in apprenticeships and re-training opportunities.

Meanwhile, sixth forms, colleges and universities will need to set and report on gender diversity targets in order increase female participation in subjects like physics and maths.

What's more, the CBI claims the government should use the UK Commission for Employment and Skills funding in key sectors to help businesses re-train older workers.

"We do have to play a long game on skills, creating more apprenticeships, but we also need policies for the short-term, including retraining existing workers with in-demand skills in key sectors," Ms Hall explained.

A CBI/Pearson survey showed that last year nearly half of firms (42 per cent) struggled to harness candidates with STEM skills and knowledge. This means key industries are unable to grow their capacity to enhance their business.

While contractors, limited companies and sole traders can step into the breach, they need to be met with strong, skilled teams.

A lack of women in STEM courses is also causing concern, especially in education. "The Davies Review has had an impact in the boardroom, now we need a similar focus on the classroom," Ms Hall said. "There is a shameful gender gap in science and technology so we need to transform society’s ideas of the choices women have in their careers."

Part of addressing the issue is helping youngsters understand what these areas have to offer. Indeed, those with the skills to work in areas like medicine, engineering and computer science are also often able to access higher earnings than those that don't.

By Victoria McDonnell

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