Technology is the future, so it's time to stimulate Stem

21st March 2014 at 00:00
Industry needs new blood - and more women - CBI argues

The UK's leading business organisation is calling on the Scottish government to act to make careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) more attractive to school-leavers.

The Scottish government should work with businesses to align and expand Stem programmes in schools and share best practice, the CBI said. The body also suggested that schools should be required to set and report on gender diversity targets in S6, and that similar action should be taken by colleges and universities to boost women's participation in Stem subjects.

On the gender issue, the CBI said that the government should take the approach recommended by Lord Davies of Abersoch in his review on women in business. His report, published in 2011, said that the leaders of FTSE 350 companies should set targets for the percentage of women they aimed to have on their boards by 2013 and 2015, with the minimum being 25 per cent.

Katja Hall, the CBI's chief policy director, told TESS: "The Davies review has had an impact in the boardroom - now we need a similar focus on Scottish classrooms. 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."

The CBI also recommended collaborative training solutions to meet what it called "the pressing need for skilled technicians".

Ms Hall said: "Growth and jobs in the future will depend on Scotland 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."

She added that highly skilled workers were essential for the economy's growth sectors, and that it would be young people with science and maths training who would go on to become the engineers and tech entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

"But it is increasingly clear that the really problematic shortages in Scotland are at skilled technician level," Ms Hall added. "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."

The CBI represents about 240,000 businesses around the UK, which employ roughly one in three private sector workers.

Minister for youth employment Angela Constance said: "We fully recognise the importance of encouraging participation in science, technology engineering and mathematics, which are all areas that are vital to the growth of Scotland's economy."

One of the government's key messages to students in the Make Young People Your Business digital skills week held earlier this month was that information communications technology (ICT) skills were "already in huge demand among employers and that will only continue to grow", she added.

"Already this week the first minister has launched an industry-led ICT [and] digital Skills Investment plan, backed with pound;6.6 million funding to support the digital sector's growth," the minister said.

Ms Constance explained that the government had taken steps to encourage more girls and young women studying at college or university to pursue jobs in science and engineering, including the launch of CareerWISE (Women into Science and Engineering) in 2012.

"Curriculum for Excellence also provides opportunities to develop understanding and skills in science, technology engineering and mathematics, with strong levels of uptake and attainment across the three main subjects," she added.

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