As those in the industry are now starkly aware, the UK science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sector is facing a skills gap. With the UK tech scene booming, attracting the next generation of talent fast enough to fill the number of jobs necessary for an increasingly cyber-focused job market is proving challenging.

Although the UK is currently an international centre for artificial intelligence and a world leader in the tech startup scene, its status is at risk, as employers in STEM-related jobs struggle to fill vacancies.

Despite the average salary in the UK tech industry an enticing £62,500, far higher than the national average, the exponential growth in the number of jobs in the industry over the last decade has meant that that incoming talent is struggling to keep up with demand.

A recent report by Open University found that 97% of organisations working in STEM and 96% of financial organisations have had difficulty hiring skilled employees over the last 12 months, with this shortfall costing the country more than £2bn a year.

Despite growing student enrollments for university courses related to computer science and technology, new jobs in these sectors still outweigh the number of skilled workers to fill them. In fact, research suggests that current vacancies in professional and scientific tech positions are three times higher than the total number of university enrollments in these subjects.

The STEM jobs with the largest skills shortages

Research by Bidwells found that the professional and scientific tech industry had the largest gap, with 69.49% more jobs than enrollments in related university courses in 2017. At the other end of the scale was the arts and entertainment industry, where university enrollments outnumbered the number of jobs available by 164.95%.

With 142,000 new STEM jobs anticipated by 2023, the problem of recruiting for these high-growth sectors is only set to get worse.

Many have predicted that Brexit could further exacerbate the issue, as it is likely to have an impact on the UK’s ability to attract new STEM professionals. The 2018 SRG Salary Survey found that 40% of those in STEM jobs thought that they would have to work harder to retain their staff post-Brexit.

According to the STEM Skills Indicator, 48% of affected businesses are looking overseas to fill vacancies, a process that may become more challenging post-Brexit.

Will Heigham, Lead Partner for Science and Technology at Bidwells believes that the skill shortage means that UK employers will need to look further afield to fill its STEM jobs:

“Having already had a major impact on employment and skills, digitisation is set to cause even more disruption in the decades ahead, making it crucial for the current workforce to embrace continuously adapting skill sets and a changing workplace landscape. However, the analysis of UK university output underlines the fact that companies will need to continue to look further afield.

“In a survey by the British Chambers of Commerce, when businesses were asked how they would respond to a potential restriction on access to EU workers, only 43% said their business wouldn’t be affected, while some aim to pay additional costs to recruit from the EU, relocate businesses partially or completely overseas, or retain older employees.”

According to the Industrial Strategy, these sectors are the most significant to the UK’s economic future, but without an incoming supply of talent, the economic potential will not be fully realised.