Preparing for the future with STEM

You probably didn’t dream of being a human limb designer or space tour operator when you were a child because that job didn’t exist.

What does the future hold for the next generation and how can we address today’s underemployment in STEM skills?

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? An astronaut? A vet? These options were achievable given the correct blend of attitude, application and, to some degree, skill.

Yet, according to a report by Microsoft, the current generation of young people may be destined for jobs that don’t even exist yet. How then, can they prepare themselves for what the future employment market holds?

The frightening pace of technological advancement has meant that new types of jobs are created every day, with each requiring a new and unique skillset. According to the US Department of Labour, around 65 percent of school pupils will move into careers that don’t exist yet thanks to the advent of IoT, A.I and more.

Microsoft predicts these jobs could be anything from ethical technology advocates, who will look to regulate the way we interact with A.I, to virtual habitat designers, who will create the virtual environments in which many people are eventually expected to work. These jobs, unrecognizable to us now, may be key to the next generation’s economic future.

Yet this works both ways – the jobs we currently work may well seem alien to the future generation of human limb design designers and biohackers. Indeed, the Microsoft account claims that “technological change, economic turbulence and societal transformation are disrupting old career certainties.”

With a yawning chasm appearing between the reality of present and future jobs, there is a real risk that the skills gap becomes unbridgeable. Why, then, does it exist?

Mind the gap

Skills in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are now more important than ever, and the number of jobs reliant on these skills set to increase. Unfortunately, a skills gap exists for a huge number of people, where the person may be eager to learn the tools required to thrive in this new environment, but are unable to find a way to do so.

The issue is one which runs deep, with The STEM Skills Gap Report finding that 59 percent of UK businesses and 79 percent of UK universities believe there aren’t enough candidates leaving education who are skilled enough to meet industry employment requirements. If this gap exists now, there is a real fear that it could worsen as jobs become increasingly reliant on these skills.

Underemployment is also playing its part in forming the gap, with many people feeling that their current roles are not catering to, or enhancing their skills. According to a recent study, STEM is suffering the most from underemployment, with the speed of innovation making it difficult for underemployed people to keep up.

By ignoring this issue, companies are cutting their nose off to spite their face. The aforementioned report claims that underemployment is also caused by companies being too picky, and only willing to hire people who are fully equipped with the skills they need.

Without investing in training for people who are not as thoroughly skilled, there is a real risk of the talent pool becoming increasingly shallow, and that competition grows even more fierce.

Building a bridge

It’s not all bad news, however, and there are very real opportunities to address this issue. Some of this responsibility falls upon the companies who are contributing to this innovation, who can help ensure that the younger generation is capable of bridging this gap, and is equipped with the skills to excel in this brave new world.

Thankfully, some companies are already addressing the skills gap. CA, for example, runs its Create Tomorrow program, which helps people develop the skills required to drive their careers, and the application economy forward. CA’s focus is on promoting relevant STEM skills in under-18s, those in higher education, as well as those already in employment.

Schemes like Deploy Your Talent help people understand the career options that can be gained from opting for STEM-related disciplines, teaching a broad-base of skills that can be of real use in the future.

If companies fail to offer these schemes, what’s going to happen to those between 25 and 60 whose degree didn’t make them attractive to this new type of employer?

It is up to the employer to identify which skills are needed and work with academics to ensure that workers are able to contribute to this new technological revolution. If they don’t, the forecast for a brighter technological future may become dimmed.

Instead, programs like Create Tomorrow not only contribute to the prospects of the next generation, but help future-proof companies’ own development – ensuring that the talent pool is filled, and that innovation can continue unabated.

 


Sarah Atkinson is a former journalist and seasoned global Communications leader with over 20 years…

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