Promoting careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) roles has always been a challenge, and especially trying to boost the number of women joiners to help combat acute skill shortages in the sector. The UNESCO Science Report 2021 found that women were not only under-represented in STEM but in tech and digital related fields. The skills gap in STEM has long been a problem and according to STEM Learning is estimated to cost the UK economy £1.5bn.
In its 2021 report, ‘Addressing the STEM Skills Shortage Challenge’, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), outlines eight recommendations, pinpointing the role of local authorities, academic institutions, industry bodies and businesses to jointly help provide training and work opportunities for those looking to enter the industry. The UK government has its role to play too in retraining and reskilling workers and in the case of start-ups and SMEs helping them to hire and train work experience students.
As the Morgan Philips 2021 Tech & Digital Salary Guide revealed, the tech and digital industry tends to still be male dominated – for example, there are only 5% of women occupying infrastructure architect jobs in Scotland and that number is only marginally greater (8%) for IT architects in England. If you take data scientists, it’s 26% of women in both Scotland and England but for CIO roles the numbers are smaller (17% and 12% respectively).
Helping women return to STEM careers
It has been particularly difficult time for women to return into the industry following a career break, which is why STEM Returners – the project to address gender imbalance and improve diversity and inclusion within STEM – recently partnered with two FTSE 100 multinationals: energy giant SSE and BAE Systems, the aerospace multinational to create jobs in Scotland. The SSE programme will provide opportunities across its renewables, distribution and transmission businesses in cities like Aberdeen, Inverness, Perth while the BAE scheme will focus on maritime engineering jobs at its Glasgow site.
Natalie Desty, director of STEM Returners, said, “The UK engineering industry needs to recruit 182,000 engineers annually to keep up with demand – this is not news. But despite this very clear and desperate skills shortage, 61 per cent of STEM professionals on a career break are finding the process of attempting to return to work either difficult or very difficult and women are bearing the brunt of this challenge.”
Clearly, while progress is being made, there is still a lot of work to do to redress the balance. And with the UK having such an acute STEM skills shortage, organisations can ill afford to overlook the female talent pool, particularly those looking to return to the workplace following a career break. And as more female role models make their mark in the sector, this will pave the way for others to follow.
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