The STEM skills gap will continue to grow across the world unless education systems are changed to fit with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

It seems that many schools are sticking with a system designed in the first Industrial Revolution and haven’t caught up with what’s going on in the modern world.

While the demand for scientists, engineers and tech experts continues to grow exponentially, those subjects are still not ‘core’ teachings within schools.

At the same time, there’s an estimated shortfall of more than 2,000 STEM trainee teachers in the UK alone.

That’s all reflected in the jobs market where the lack of STEM graduates in the UK, for example, costs businesses an estimated £1.5bn a year in recruitment, training and temporary staff costs.

Reviewing the core subjects

Every economy wants to be able to give people the opportunity to get an education, but many people aren’t coming out with qualifications that are relevant in the future of work. There’s a misalignment between what people want to study and the value of those courses and qualifications to society.

In the UK, it’s accepted that everyone has to study Maths and English throughout their education to ensure they have a base literacy and numeracy level. But science, technology and engineering-based subjects continue to be optional in schools despite their importance.

The Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of sciences, highlighted this point when the organisation expressed concern that students can completely drop STEM subjects in favour of humanities at A-Level. It said A-Levels are “no longer fit for purpose”.

So, you have to wonder, are we creating people that are fit and ready for the future?

I know of schools where children study computer science as an extracurricular activity because it’s not taught during normal school hours. Many kids don’t want to study computer science in their spare time, so instead they’ll go and learn Latin, which is taught in school time.

If we’re thinking about the value to the economy, is computer science as important as Latin? I would say it is, so I don’t understand the logic in the schooling system that makes kids learn really valuable skills outside of normal school time instead of making time for it on the curriculum.

We’re certainly making people ready for the challenges of 20 years ago but by looking at the STEM skills shortage alone, we can see that people haven’t been skilled-up for the challenges of today or for the future.

The outlook

Life sciences roles are expected to grow by 121% across the globe in the next 10 years while tech roles will increase by 120% and engineering jobs by 115%.

But I don’t think there’s any evidence to suggest that the STEM skills gap will close in the next 10 or 15 years and I don’t see any proof of an increased demand to study STEM subjects.

To change that, governments need to take action now by investing in STEM and putting the skills of the future, such as science, tech and engineering, at the heart of education instead of simply having them as an optional extra.

But it’s also about showing people what a career in science, tech or engineering looks like and giving them the tools to pursue that.

By doing that we’ll give our children and the economy the best possible start in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.