New advice targets root of STEM skill shortages

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and trade union Prospect have published new guidance for science, engineering, technology and maths (STEM) employers looking to attract a more diverse talent pool.

IET image of multigenerational engineers
The guidance document, Supporting the STEP back into STEM careers, identifies barriers for returners to STEM roles and how companies can help overcome them, offering best practice actions and examples.The advice follows a survey this month from the British Chambers of Commerce warning companies in the sector face severe productivity loss from the shortage of people with digital skills.

Changing employer perceptions of career returners

Targeted particularly at helping employers understand the opportunities and barriers to employing skilled people after career breaks, the advice highlights how experienced engineers and other STEM professional wanting to return to the workplace are often side-lined in favour of candidates with continuous service.To overcome this, the guidance proposes employers offer flexible working, review policies and benefits and rethink how and where they advertise jobs, coupled with a more supportive corporate culture.

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Addressing gender imbalances

Sue Ferns, deputy general secretary at Prospect, the union for professionals, said: “Engineering still faces significant challenges of gender segregation and, particularly at a time of skill shortages and gaps, needs to draw on all of the UK’s talents and expertise.“Having a positive approach to engaging with returners can have significant business benefits as well as supporting individuals to achieve their full potential."As our new guidance shows, there are lots of small practical actions that can be taken to make this happen. Prospect is delighted to have partnered with the IET and looks forward to working together to make a positive difference.”

Filling the STEM talent pool

Jeremy Watson, IET president, adds: “The guide comes hot on the heels of the government’s new investment in schemes to help returners back into the workplace. As the engineering skills shortage continues to grow, our sector must move away from the misconception that career breaks get in the way and are a problem.“Instead, STEM employers should view career breaks as periods of self-development and develop a culture that accommodates and values these breaks and the skills and competence of those members of staff that are currently being overlooked and side-lined.”Lee Allen, commercial director at Jobsite said: “Female candidates and those returning from a career break are a great pool of untapped talent and have so much to offer the engineering sector.“It’s vitally important that employers make it clear through their recruitment advertising that they’re happy to consider returners on a level playing field with all other candidates. Skilled returners with lots of experience can play a vital role in reducing the engineering skills shortage.”

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