Dealing with the deficit

28th April 2015

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  • Central government ,
  • Business & Industry ,
  • Training ,
  • CPD ,
  • Qualifications


Alistair Tulloch Sutherland

The new government must deal with the skills deficit as well as the economic one, says Paul Suff.

Financial deficits have been at the top of the political agenda since the economic crash, with policymakers across Europe squabbling over how best to deal with the shortfall in public finances.

But there is another deficit, particularly acute in the UK, that has attracted less attention, and solving it could also help to reduce the financial debt. The UK has a severe skills shortage, which will hamper future economic growth and the creation of a more sustainable economy.

The engineering and project management consultancy, Atkins, recently predicted that infrastructure projects in the UK could experience higher costs, poor decision-making and late project delivery due to a lack of scientists, engineers and technicians. It found that many of the firms involved in delivering the £460 billion worth of infrastructure projects over the next few years were struggling to recruit staff, while two-thirds expected the shortage to worsen over the next five.

The report from Atkins highlighted how a lack of potential recruits with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills could stifle innovation, which it said is vital in creating solutions to modern infrastructure challenges. In the water sector, for example, it quotes experts who suggest the industry will require a different set of skills if it is to manage demand and develop creative solutions to environmental challenges.

The report questioned whether already stretched teams would be allowed the time to develop innovative solutions to realise the government’s ambition for a modern, sustainable, resilient and customer-focused water sector. Now, a new report commissioned by the Shell Springboard, reveals that a lack of STEM graduates will hamper low-carbon innovation across the economy and warns that the UK may miss out on annual growth worth £6.7 billion by 2023 as a result.

The Atkins and Shell Springboard reports both indicate that skills shortages are likely to hinder the transition to a more sustainable, resource-efficient, low-carbon economy. IEMA has already highlighted the fact that just 13% of organisations are fully confident they have the skills to successfully compete in a sustainable economy. Its campaign, which has just received backing from its 40th sponsor, is at the vanguard of raising the importance of bridging the skills gap so UK companies can capitalise on the economic opportunities offered by more sustainable options.

The UK construction industry is also trying to tackle the deficiency through a number of initiatives, including its supply chain sustainability school. The new government in Westminster must make tackling the skills deficit a priority.


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