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GCSE results highlight construction industry's huge STEM skills shortage

GCSE results day highlights the importance of encouraging students to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects at a more advanced level.

This year will be no different; the choices young people make now will determine the career path they follow. This is why as an industry we must urge them to continue studying STEM subjects, which open up a wide range of long-term options.

“The results show a decline in A-level student numbers across most STEM subjects compared with 2015”

But last week’s A-level results indicate there are still too few students taking STEM subjects beyond GCSE.

Worryingly, the results show a decline in A-level student numbers across most STEM subjects compared with 2015 and an average annual increase of just 0.61 per cent since 2012. These figures are insufficient to make any meaningful difference to the numbers of STEM students needed to plug the construction industry’s skills gap.

Scape Group’s Sustainability in the Supply Chain report, published earlier this week, highlights the severity of the skills shortage for the construction industry. Of the 150-plus organisations it surveyed, one in 10 say the skills shortage is critically affecting budgets.

The reality is that industry needs a much bigger supply of STEM students than is currently available. GCSE and A-level STEM qualifications are vital not just for degrees but for many apprenticeship courses as well.

Major co-ordination required

With STEM subjects important for most routes into our industry, urgent action is needed to increase the number of students studying them. A co-ordinated, large-scale effort involving government, industry and the education sector is required.

The solution must not only stimulate interest in STEM careers, but also ensure training is adequately funded and focused on meeting the needs of construction employers.

As the mainstream school system provides a vital pipeline of talent for the construction industry, more needs to be done to make young people aware of the rewarding career options opened up to them through STEM qualifications. 

“Stereotypes about construction persist, and part of the challenge will be to show that the reality of working in the built environment is very different”

Initiatives such as the STEM Ambassador Programme are crucial to encouraging young people to consider a career in STEM-related professions. Under this scheme and others, Aecom volunteers visit schools regularly to introduce young minds to engineering and other technical disciplines.

Reshaping misconceptions

Only collaboration on a large-scale between businesses and schools will make a meaningful impact on the number of young people seeking to join the sector.

Stereotypes about construction sites persist, and part of the challenge will be to break down misconceptions and show that the reality of working in the built environment is very different.

There is no doubt that the construction industry is facing a severe skills shortage and growing capacity remains a significant challenge. Tackling the sluggish pipeline of STEM students must, therefore, be a priority.

Regardless of whether or not today’s results show another rise in the number of GCSE STEM entries, industry will still need to accelerate its efforts if it is to overcome the skills shortfall.

Richard Robinson is the chief executive of civil infrastructure Europe, Middle East, India and Africa for Aecom

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