Sector hails Stem A-level rise but warns of complacency

DataIQ News

The data industry has welcomed the rise in the number of students taking science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects  - revealed in today's A-level results - but has warned that the sector must not rest on its laurels as more still needs to be done to encourage youngsters into the sector.

According to the results, more young people than ever are now studying Stem subjects, up by 8.9% over five years, and 36.8% in ten years, while the most popular subject, Maths, has increased its examination numbers by 10.9% in five years, and 51% in ten years.

Computing entries have witnessed the biggest change – an increase of 173% in five years – and entries in 2018 are almost three times the number in 2013, up from 3,758 to 10,286.

However, while the number of women entering computing has increased five-fold in five years, it has only gone up from just 245 in 2013 to 1,211 in 2018 and the proportion of women entering Stem subjects has increased only slightly from 42.0% in 2013 to 43.4% in 2018.

Qlik global head of data literacy Jordan Morrow said that this year's results not only highlight an increased interest and participation in technology-led subjects among 16- to 18-year-olds, but show that schools are placing a greater emphasis on promoting the value of careers in technology.

He added: "As data is now relied upon by companies of all sizes to work more efficiently, an organisation's ability to succeed is heavily dependent on its employees' abilities to learn a new language. The language of data. It is therefore inevitable that those who can read, work, analyse and argue with data when they leave education will be able to contribute more to their roles and organisations in the future workplace. Whether entering the next phase of their education or the job market, this year's results suggest that more students will be leaving school with at least a basic understanding of how to interrogate data, which is vital."

SAS UK & Ireland vice-presdient and country manager Charles Senabulya believes that an enthusiasm for technology skills is a great starting point, but the industry must ensure that it fosters the right environment, so the workforce can flourish throughout their careers.

"Job roles are already experiencing plenty of change with the arrival of artificial intelligence, robotics and smart technologies, and the next generation need to be equipped to understand and operate alongside these innovations. More businesses will be looking to digitally transform themselves to remain competitive, so tech skills will be at a premium."

Senabulya added: "Graduating to become a 'data scientist' or 'data strategist' is not yet commonplace, but these are some of the most valuable opportunities for graduates in a changing job market. Our research shows that big data and the internet of things could have added £322bn to the UK economy over the period 2015-2020, which reflects the strong demand for those skilled to work in these fields.

"There are plenty of opportunities out there – we just need to make sure our young people are able to seize them."

Software AG EMEA vice-president of HR Carol Holden agrees. She said: "We need to ensure they are encouraged and supported to keep the UK as a centre for innovation and technology in Europe. Businesses need to focus on plugging the existing tech skills gap and future-proof our tech leaders of the future".

Meanwhile, Exasol regional vice-president UK Ravinder Romanay sees signs that the government-industry initiatives are paying off but more action is need to inspire the next generation of female talent.

"There is still plenty more to be done to help improve the gender balance in the tech industry and the fact that more girls are now studying Sem subjects is promising for the future of our industry. Of course, this is no time to rest on our laurels, but the time to press forward and make sure we keep these young people engaged with the technology industry going forward."

The move is also proving a boon for the manufacturing industry. Protolabs design manager  Ray Faulkner explained: "Our research shows over one-third (35%) of manufacturing leaders believe Stem skills are critical to the success of their businesses. We predict the demand for Stem skills in manufacturing is going to be even higher this year.

"From our experience, developing young talent in Stem should be a priority and start as early as primary and secondary education. There is still room for improvement but these exam results show UK could become the 'workshop of the world' again, but this time for high value and innovative processes."