Female STEM worker wearing disposable face mask

The impact of COVID-19 on the STEM sector

According to SRG’s 2021 STEM Survey, produced in association with New Scientist, the STEM sector has withstood the coronavirus pandemic relatively well.

 

While the economic fallout of COVID-19 and the concomitant changes to working practices and disruption to supply chains have impacted every industry bar none, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) remains resilient. In fact, STEM employees and their businesses have fared much better than might be expected. 

 

The report, which surveyed 2,400 people from across industry and academia in Europe and North America found average salaries for STEM jobs in the UK and North America have increased from the previous year, while earnings for the rest of Europe (excluding the UK) are more or less the same.

 

What’s more, those working in the sector are predominantly upbeat in their outlook: most respondents feel satisfied in their jobs and are optimistic for the year ahead.

 

Of course, the job plans and prospects of countless people were still hindered by the pandemic, with many being unable to work due to their company having to close or operate at reduced capacity. No wonder, then, that COVID-19 was seen as the biggest concern for respondents across both geographical areas and different sectors.

 

Despite lockdowns and other restrictive measures having a massive negative impact on productivity in the wider economy, UK respondents to the survey reported an average salary of £43,424 — over £4,000 higher than the previous year. This places the average salary of survey respondents almost £12,000 higher than the average UK salary in 2021.

 

There are many reasons for this salary uplift. Changes in UK employment legislation, for example, gives contractors the same pay entitlement as full-time workers. People working in STEM are also less likely to have found themselves unemployed due to the pandemic. According to ONS figures, just 14% of STEM workers were placed on a furlough scheme (for context, 80% of food services and accommodation sector workers were furloughed).

 

Roughly one in ten respondents said they had been affected in some way by furlough. When answering the survey, 65% of UK respondents reported being back to work as normal at the time of the survey — greater than respondents in the US (57%) and the rest of Europe (39%).

 

COVID-19 also seems to have made people feel differently about job security. In the 2020 Survey (data collected prior to the pandemic), one third of respondents had planned to change jobs. This year, however, 41% said COVID-19 had affected their motivation to seek out a new role, while a quarter didn’t think a move was the right choice during the pandemic.

 

Most employees also reported being satisfied with their employer’s response to COVID-19. In the UK and US, the figure stood at around three-quarters. In mainland Europe, the figure was around two-thirds — suggesting higher levels of dissatisfaction. 

 

Looking forward, STEM workers appear to be optimistic about the near future. Three-quarters of UK and US respondents and 68% of respondents from the rest of Europe were optimistic that business would return to pre-COVID levels in 2021. Many respondents also feel COVID-19 will permanently alter working patterns (such as flexible working arrangements) — even after the pandemic is over.

 

While it is tricky to make predictions for how next year will unfold, it’s clear that the effects of the pandemic will be felt for a long time. Thankfully, in the past year, the STEM sectors have demonstrated their resilience and ability to adapt to rapid change.

 

This article is based on an article that originally appeared in the 24 April 2021 print edition of New Scientist. You can read the digital version here.

 

Read the 2021 STEM Survey now >

 

For more insights into the ever-changing world of STEM, stay tuned to the SRG blog.


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