Published on in Responsible Business

The skills gap is real, and today it costs our economy an estimated £63 billion a year. With a digital future – where businesses, products and services will be increasingly built upon and connected by technology – this gap and cost have potential to get bigger.

We have the chance to make sure that doesn’t happen, by empowering the workers now and the next generation with the right science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills.

Why it’s important

According to our recent digital disruption study, 44% of UK organisations will not exist in their current form by 2021.

Think of the transformative technologies that are important today, but will be pervasive tomorrow, such as artificial intelligence and the internet of things. These have the potential to liberate and empower people, opening up new opportunities for business to generate value and people forge new careers.

This raises difficult questions around how we can best equip the workforce with the digital skills that future employers will need.

The current state of play

The current shortage in digital skills stems from a number of issues. There is general lack of awareness, where people frankly don’t realise the incredible opportunities that STEM jobs have to offer.

There remain large groups in the population that hold the unfortunate and flawed perception that STEM jobs aren’t for them. Women are a great example of this; in 2016, just 21% of the core STEM workforce was made up by women.

What does this mean? Put simply, STEM has an image problem that needs addressing urgently.

Let’s be clear: the competitiveness of the UK economy is at stake.

Closing the gap

If the imbalance in STEM is to be addressed and a broader push made to enhance the nation’s STEM pedigree, then we must engage a diverse arrange of young people.

But how?

It will take a concerted effort across responsible parties, including policymakers, the private sector, education institutions and especially parents. A collective effort can drive the uptake of STEM subjects by young people.

A key part of this will be breaking down existing barriers and shattering perceived glass ceilings, giving children access to STEM experiences and learnings from a young age.

We must also place more emphasis on apprenticeships. They are a powerful way of recruiting eager candidates and giving them the necessary experience to develop technical skills and commercial awareness.

The new ideas and knowledge that young people bring as digital natives are also vital in enabling companies to innovate and to keep up with business landscapes that are changing faster than ever thanks to digital disruption.

The time is now

If the UK fails to keep pace with the digital disruptors of the world, our economic prospects will be severely weakened.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. We have the power to make the necessary changes now to empower the next generation.

With the right education, encouragement and professional opportunities, the UK can look forward to a bright digital future.

Download our Fit for Digital report for lots more insight on closing the UK STEM gap

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