Engineer reskilling an older colleague

How to fix the future-skills gap in STEM and kickstart a "reskilling revolution"

With technological innovation and macroeconomic trends speeding up the evolution of our work environment — a process accelerated by COVID-19 and the rise of remote working — it is vital that STEM leaders have strategies in place to close the widening skills gap.

 

The skills gap is one of the biggest problems currently facing the STEM sector and wider economy.

 

If recent World Economic Forum predictions are anything to go by, the global economy will need to reskill 1 billion people by 2030. By 2022 alone, 42% of the core skills required to perform existing jobs are expected to change. 

Indeed, in SRG’s in-depth 2020 STEM Survey, hiring managers admitted to struggling to find the appropriate skill sets in biological science, chemistry and engineering, and programming. Data analytics was another skill set deemed to be in short supply. 

So how, then, can businesses respond to this burgeoning crisis? In this article, we’ll take a look at wider industry recommendations to provide our own list of strategies — strategies to help your business keep its workforce ahead of the curve and its talent pipeline evergreen.

 

Making skills an industry priority

Outlining the long-term vision for the life sciences sector, Professor Sir John Bell’s Life Sciences Industrial Strategy (LSIS) report states that the industry’s success is “closely tied to the ability to train and recruit the best possible workforce, equipped with a breadth of critical skills.”

 

With this in mind, the LSIS identifies seven people and skills priorities that the sector at large should focus on in the coming years:

 

  1. Attract, retain and develop “globally mobile talent” 
  2. Encourage students in schools, colleges and universities to take up STEM subjects
  3. Understand, anticipate and respond to skills gaps across different occupations
  4. Enable more mobility between the clinical, commercial, and academic sectors
  5. Incentivise and support entrepreneur training for the migration of academic scientists into industry
  6. Develop apprenticeships with STEM SMEs
  7. Accelerate the convergence of life science, computer science, mathematics, statistics, engineering and chemistry (especially in the fields of diagnostics, personalised medicine and data science).

Of course, achieving true skills parity in STEM takes time and requires a concerted international effort between governments, academic institutions, and STEM organisations. However, life-science firms of all sizes can adapt these seven priorities as a means to make a tangible difference to their own workforces. Here's what you can do to ensure your people are ready to meet the future head on.

7 actionable strategies to help upskill your workforce

1) Encourage self-reliance and self-learning among employees...

As our STEM Survey shows, more than half of respondents upskilled themselves within the past year — demonstrating a widespread awareness among workers that new skills are needed to traverse wider industry change. Actively encouraging this inclination and positioning it towards core business functions is a cost-effective way to stay ahead of the curve. 

2) But don't forget to maintain crucial support mechanisms

While employees should be empowered to be more autonomous with their learning and development, this does not give employers the green light to dismantle support structures. For self-learning to become truly embedded across an organisation, L&D governance needs to be integrated with overall business strategy. This will ensure employees are directing their learning towards company goals and will provide them with the necessary support when needed.

3) Forge strategic partnerships with academic institutions

Having an alliance in place with a school, university or STEM research centre can help fast-track bright young talent into the right positions at your business. On an industry level, this consolidates and strengthens two of the core routes into a career in life science: academic education and vocational education. This, in turn, provides the workforce with more career agility — boosting vital skills like adaptability and flexibility in the process.

4) Set up internal training bodies or online academies

Building an in-house training program carries two key benefits: it equips employees with sufficient organisational knowledge and ensures they have the most up-to-date industry know-how. While some firms may not have a sufficient training budget, reskilling existing employees is a much more worthwhile investment than the costly task of hiring new employers to address skills shortages. Moreover, a targeted training scheme optimises the onboarding of new staff and frees up valuable time.

5) Launch an apprenticeships initiative 

Though some SMEs with smaller budgets may be reluctant to take on apprentices, government financial assistance (the UK government’s Apprenticeship Levy is a prominent example) is incentivising such schemes. And while apprenticeships may not address immediate skills shortages, they represent an economical way to prepare your workforce for the future.

6) Expand the candidate search

Your company’s recruitment marketing strategies should take a proactive, multichannel approach. This includes keeping vacancies up-to-date on the website, spreading the word on social media, and adding more touchpoints to the candidate journey. Attention should also be paid to employer branding: if a company is perceived as undesirable to work at, applications will remain low.

7) Leverage the expertise of older employees

Given that more than a million people over the age of 65 work on a part-time or consultancy basis in the UK, life-science companies would be foolish not to call upon such a skill set. Aside from providing the valuable experience that may otherwise be lacking, such staff can be deployed as mentors for promising young employees. In turn, younger staff can share the tech and digital skills that can often be underdeveloped among older employees.

The bottom line?

When employees are actively empowered to enhance their skill sets, both they and your business grow. Staff retention, engagement, and productivity all go up, while recruitment costs go down. In this turbulent economic landscape, addressing the STEM skills gap is a no-brainer.

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