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UK – Lack of STEM candidates – talent shortage beginning to bite

28 October 2013

Permanent placements and vacancies across the professional staffing sector continue to climb with five months of consecutive growth, according to the latest trends report from the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), which analyses vacancies and placements across the UK staffing sector. The year-on-year decline rate has receded further for placements and vacancies, and month on month placements have risen once again by +1.5%. 

While the IT sector was one of the hardest hit during the recession, APSCo’s data shows that for the third consecutive month vacancies actually increased, while permanent placements decreased, (+0.9% and -0.8% respectively) pointing towards the early stages of a skills shortage.  Added to this, recent research from KPMG and Markit reveals that the UK tech sector is planning to create more jobs over the next twelve months, which means the skills shortage can only get worse.  

This can be attributed in part to the long standing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) skills shortage – a trend reflected in recent estimates from the Royal Academy of Engineering that the minimum number of science, technology, engineering, and maths graduates needed to keep the industry fully resourced now stands at approximately 100,000 a year. This is a far cry from the current 90,000 graduates coming out of university with a STEM degree, of which up to a quarter going on to choose non STEM careers. 

Furthermore, APSCo’s data also reveals that this trend is likely to intensify over the coming months with temporary vacancies continuing to climb month on month (+1.6%) as employers turn to short term workers to plug the gap.

Recent news reports have suggested that the areas that must be addressed to ensure a future pipeline of IT are: a person’s choice of qualification, their work experience, and a solid understanding of the workplace.  

A view with which, APSCo member ReThink Recruitment’s director Michael Bennett, concurs: “Our experience shows that the biggest blockage in the IT talent pipeline is the lack of graduates applying and undertaking the relevant university course. In fact, the longstanding STEM course take up, coupled with some people opting for a joint honours degree, has led to a lack of technical skills in the in tray of employers.  The evidence is presented to hiring managers in the form of a large candidate pool which, when on closer inspection, is diluted by scores of students with general business – IT skills, who lack the core techie expertise the industry is crying out for.”

Despite the IT sector experiencing the most impressive growth, other sectors are also faring well.  APSCo’s online data from Innovantage notes online permanent vacancy growth in the property and construction (+59%), HR (+14%), and the science & technology (+14%) arenas compared to the same time last year.

Ann Swain, Chief Executive of APSCo commented: “With the economy continuing to show signs of stability, and our data revealing many sectors are returning to growth, the UK must do something to address the skills shortage before it’s too late. The problem facing the STEM arena is not a new phenomenon yet the Government, educational institutions, and UK businesses are failing to make any meaningful changes.  With several European based companies – Siemens, BAE, and Dyson – publicly condemning the lack of STEM talent coming out of the country, surely it is time to make significant changes for the benefit of UK plc? Perhaps the answer lies with our European counterparts that have got it so right”

John Nurthen, Executive Director International Development for Staffing Industry Analysts commented: “Our research data has shown a noticeable pick-up in demand for professional temporary and contract staff for number of months now. Alongside improving economic data I think it is pretty clear we will see demand accelerating as we head into the final two months of the year.”


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