UK growth at risk due to 50,000 missing women

Posted on 8 Nov 2016 by Victoria Fitzgerald

The UK’s key growth industries risk stagnation unless the country tackles the loss of 50,000 talented girls a year from science, technology and engineering jobs, a major national summit will hear on November 10.

British companies face a massive skills shortage of  69,000 recruits a year, while 93% of girls who have great potential, face a lifetime of low pay and limited prospects because they don’t pursue qualifications for technology-based industries, claims campaigning group WISE.

At the organisation’s national conference in London today, chief executive, Helen Wollaston, is calling on the government, media and schools to work together with WISE to bring an end to the crisis of these missing minds by showing how STEM careers can transform the lives of young women and fuel the economy.

Helen Woollaston 2
Helen Wollaston, chief executive of WISE.

Wollaston explained: “There is a global war for talent – specifically STEM-related talent – and the rest of the world is stealing a march on the UK.

“These key skills will secure and fuel the UK’s most important industries today and tomorrow. We cannot afford to lose this war; especially when uncertainty around Brexit is further challenging the economic outlook for the UK.

“We are calling for action on three fronts – education, apprenticeships and industrial strategy. OFSTED should analyse the percentage of girls taking science, maths and computing after GCSE – and only give excellent ratings to schools and colleges achieving 24%. This would match the percentage of boys.

“Companies should be allowed to use the new Apprenticeship Levy to market science, technology and engineering apprenticeships to women. And the much talked about UK industrial strategy should aim to have a third of digital jobs filled by women. We have to do something dramatic to achieve a shift change.”

She added that parents have an important role to play too: “Technology careers attract premium salaries and these skills are in high demand – we typically hear of five job offers for every digital graduate. Why wouldn’t you want your daughter to work in this field?  But too many parents still discourage young women because they see science, engineering , IT and technology as dirty or dull.

“We all need to work together to show the incredible opportunities for those who study maths, science and computing. The skills crisis is pushing our most productive industries towards breaking point and we all have a role to play in making sure everyone recognises the importance and value of STEM qualifications.

“Far too many students rack up thousands in debt every year chasing degrees that will lead to little in the way of career prospects. If we can turn the tide and get more young women choosing science, technology, engineering and maths, they, and the UK as a whole, will have a much brighter future.”

To help inspire the next generation of female engineers, scientists and digital gurus, WISE has created a top ten of Christmas presents to help parents to encourage their daughter’s interest in STEM skills.  The list includes toys to build a human body, create solar powered robots, run a chocolate factory and tell the time with a potato clock.

According to research by WISE, published this October, girls outperform boys in GCSE science subjects, with near equality in numbers taking these exams. This plummets to just 33% of females after GCSEs and by university, just 7% of women take degrees in technology and engineering. This amounts to tens of thousands of talented female students being lost every year.

Wollaston offers practical tips for parents to encourage their daughters:  “Get immersed in what the digital based jobs of today and tomorrow look like so you can talk knowledgeably to your daughters. Buy them science and tech-based toys for Christmas. Look up inspiring women on the internet and get their school to discuss these.