The STEM skills shortage is costing us £1.5 billion every year. Are we doing enough to ensure our engineering and manufacturing industries don’t grind to a halt?

In 2018 a report was released by STEM Learning, a career support and training agency, that found the major shortage of STEM skilled staff in the UK was costing up to £1.5 billion a year. The report stated that nine in 10 employers struggle to recruit the right staff and 48% were looking abroad to find staff with the right skills. The head of education at the Institute for Mechanical Engineering, Peter Finegold, said ‘there is an apparent mismatch between the skills employers need and those valued by our education system’. A study from the Institute for mechanical engineering has suggested that more young people may consider furthering their engineering education if they have the chance to engage with the subject during high school. In Norfolk we are lucky, engineering and manufacturing accounts for 14% of jobs in North Norfolk, well above the national average of 9%. But how to we continue to ensure these jobs are filled in the coming generations? In this article we look at two programmes operating in Norfolk that are looking to close the STEM skills gap by taking advantage of those groups some employers may overlook.

Image credit: Julian Claxton and Vattenfall

Norfolk Stem Hub: Part of a wider UK network of 19 STEM Ambassador Hubs, the Norfolk branch of the programme officially launches in May 2019. Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm have collaborated with the University of East Anglia, ScottishPower Renewable, Vattenfall, Nautilus Associates and The Bridge Trust to develop the learning experience of STEM subjects in the region’s schools and encourage more people to look into STEM career paths. Victoria Sinclair of ScottishPower Renewable has said that ‘

‘the hub represents a unique opportunity for us to deepen our understanding of what students, teachers and parents would like to know about STEM’. The hub will offer work experience opportunities for students as well as providing STEM resource information for educators. The hub has already run a workshop at Vattenfall for International Women’s Day, addressing the shortage of girls and women in the energy and manufacturing sectors.

Image credit, Norfolk Industries

Norfolk Industries is a pet bedding and packaging service with a twist. The large majority of their staff are disabled. The company has been running for over 100 years, starting by employing those with visual impairments but have since branched out to offer both employment and work experience to those with other mental and physical disabilities. Sharon Tooke, general manager at the factory, has said that this group of people are a ‘completely untapped workforce’ that could help fill the shortage of workers after Brexit.

She also states that the main problem of getting those with disabilities into work is actually perception from the businesses. ‘Businesses are all about the money and margins and see people with disabilities as a hassle’ she said. Norfolk Enterprise have shown that those with disabilities can be a credit to the workforce, stating that clients have never found errors in their work when carrying out spot-checks. This just shows, when trying to fill the STEM skills gap, we shouldn’t be leaving anyone out.

For more information about STEM initiatives across New Anglia, as well as those run by NAAME, please contact hmules@hethelinnovation.com