back to article Do UK.gov wonks understand sci-tech skills gap? MPs dish out Parliamentary kicking

The UK government doesn't know what science and tech skills the economy needs or how Brexit will affect firms' ability to recruit staff, MPs have warned. In a withering report published today, Parliament's influential Public Accounts Committee criticised the government's poor understanding of science, technology, engineering …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    STEM??

    And here I thought that the only degree that mattered was PPE!

    List of University of Oxford people with PPE degrees

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: STEM??

      And here I thought that the only degree that mattered was PPE!

      I'm surprised, only about 80 of the UK politicians from the last 50-odd years, although it does seem to have most of the useless ones in it.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: STEM??

      >And here I thought that the only degree that mattered was PPE!

      Sam Gyimah, Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation has a degree in PPE.

      Which is as much use as bringing a stick of rhubarb to a sword fight.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Are they really that thick? Universities are charging for STEM courses for students to get into a lot of debt for a career that doesn't pay that well (depending on what you do of course).

  3. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    All the government knows is that...

    All the government knows is that it wants a highly skilled, flexible and motivated workforce that all need to be permanent employees and not really flexible at all. This makes taxing them correctly easier for HMRC because making money is all they are really interested in.

    1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      Re: All the government knows is that...

      "This makes taxing them correctly easier for HMRC because making money is all they are really interested in."

      Don't you mean "taking money"?

  4. Herring`

    Politicians and STEM

    A quick Google suggests that 9% of candidates at the last election had a STEM qualification. It's pretty rare amongst politicians - an exception being Margaret Thatcher.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Politicians and STEM

      "Politicians and STEM

      A quick Google suggests that 9% of candidates at the last election had a STEM qualification. It's pretty rare amongst politicians - an exception being Margaret Thatcher.

      "

      considering 90% of people i meet with STEM qualifications are useless or incompetent it's not much help

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Politicians and STEM

        >considering 90% of people i meet with STEM qualifications are useless or incompetent it's not much help

        And 99% of people I meet with arts degrees have difficulty tying their own shoelaces, let alone following a Haynes manual.

  5. Dr_N Silver badge
    Mushroom

    STEM

    The UK was doomed the moment it was all lumped together in one catch-all buzz-acronym for ministers to bandy around.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: STEM

      What, STEM or UK?

  6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "The PAC pointed the finger at the two departments that should be most knowledgeable – the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Department for Education."

    Let's add a third: the Treasury and specifically HMRC for IR35, a notable deterrent to flexible working.

  7. Andytug

    Long-term?

    Will never happen then. No politician in power is interested in long term stuff, unless it's a can they've kicked into the long grass for it to be someone else's problem years later (e.g. pensions).

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Long-term?

      "a can they've kicked into the long grass for it to be someone else's problem years later (e.g. pensions)"

      Add PFI to that. A sensible energy policy. A sensible transport policy. A sensible planning policy... Anything involving hard thinking or unpopular decisions, in fact.

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: Long-term?

        Anything involving hard thinking or unpopular decisions, in fact.

        That is one reason I'm surprised there's so much interest in replacing the House of Lords with another elected assembly. It'll just create another chamber focussed on short-termism.

    2. Halfmad

      Re: Long-term?

      This is why the NHS, particularly in England is constantly spending millions on restructuring because MPs are elected and start fiddling with the existing structure to "make efficiency and rid the NHS of middle managers"

      Sadly those middle managers normally remove workload from clinicians, so without them clinicians end up managing. Likewise the restructuring costs a blooming fortune due to redundency payments, building moves, changes to clinical systems (which can take ages) etc.

      Then those MPs are voted out and the next lot start it all again.

      NHSScotland is marginally better but only because they flip/flop between Labour and the SNP so the ideology isn't that enormously different at least on healthcare.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Long-term?

        It’s also bollocks as the NHS already spends less on management than most other western health care systems.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Long-term?

        "Sadly those middle managers normally remove workload from clinicians, so without them clinicians end up managing."

        All too often the middle managers are micro-managers who place their own load on the managed so the managed might or might not end up doing at least some of the original managing, they have to manage their managers.

  8. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

    Stream the schools not the children

    This is a political comment, and my political comments tend to get downvoted. But here goes, anyway.

    The education system is failing at all levels. It fails to properly develop the bright children because it stuffs them (*) into bog-standard comps. About 20% of children used to get a grammar school education. That means about 20 out of the 100 or so children admitted to a comprehensive each year at age 11. So in a class of 30 there are already 10 not really at home there.

    Fast forward to age 14, when they begin to specialise into STEM, foreign languages, history, etc. and there are maybe 12 bright STEM children. What state school will provide their own classroom for those 12? Let alone the class of teaching that the top 5 deserve?

    The system also fails those at the other end of the scale. There are not enough of the weak ones to justify giving them special attention, just as with the bright ones.

    Finally, the system fails the average child; the two-thirds or so at average IQ (100) plus-or-minus one standard deviation (15). Their classes are distracted or disrupted by the minority groups who should be elsewhere, preferably in separate schools dedicated to their needs.

    We need bright schools, midstream schools, and weak schools. With this separation, the midstream schools could do a much better job, and would meet the needs of many employers.

    I suspect there are no policy-making civil servants in the Education Department who understand the terms mean and standard deviation, let alone the quantitative implications I have set out above. Instead they witter on about the number of pupils receiving free school meals.

    I emphasise the requirement for STEM graduates in policy-making positions. The old civil service doctrine, "On tap, not on top", has been the ruin of modern Britain. Fix that, and a lot of other things will get fixed.

    (*) So to speak.

    1. hammarbtyp Silver badge

      Re: Stream the schools not the children

      After going through a grammar school education, this idea that it is a panacea to education is a middle class sop.

      There are many issues, but the biggest is that you can identify the future high achievers through a fool proof test method at the age of 12. Firstly any testing advantages the upper to middle classes who can afford to cram the test (and all tests can). This is why the Tories like them so much, it is hidden class segregation

      Secondly children mature at different rates. A high achiever at 12 can be a also ran at 18, while the opposite is true.

      The problem with selective schools is they tend to concentrate the resources at those schools. Anyone who remembers the 1970s comprehensive systems will remember how poor they were because so little was expected of those who went.

      Schools are run now on the basis of getting the most potential out of everyone. A lot of subjects are streamed. The top 10% will succeed anywhere. It is the middle 30/40% who suffer most because they will already have been written off.

      There is another reason why selective schools suck. I was talking to a ex-Rolls Royce employee once. He had been pretty successful in his chosen career and became head draughtsman. However he told me once that he wasn't very bright. I asked why, and he said well I failed mu 11 plus.

      Personally I don't want to be in a world where a persons self worth for life is defined by some ability to pass a arbitary exam at the age of 12 before that individual has had the chance to grow both mentally and in maturity,

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Stream the schools not the children

        There is another reason why selective schools suck.

        Counter example: The one part of the UK where grammar schools survived and comprehensives didn't appear was N. Ireland. That was because the parents dug their heels in and the Labour government forcing that policy in the 1970's was too afraid of creating more instability at a bad time. That government fell before it could overcome the opposition.

        Since then NI children from both grammar and non-grammar (secondary) schools have done systematically better (around 5-7%) in O/A level exams and their successors than the UK average.

        There's some sign that this difference is flattening out. It roughly corresponds to when Tony Blair started his new crusade against grammar schools, despite paying to send his own children to a private one.

        I went to a grammar school. The local secondary taught childen up to age 16, and those that wanted to continue to A-levels could then transfer to our grammar, which helped resolve the "late bloomer" issues.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Stream the schools not the children

        " The top 10% will succeed anywhere. It is the middle 30/40% who suffer most because they will already have been written off."

        That may depend on the area. Teaching bright pupils is intellectually demanding of teachers. Too often the the bright ones are left on their own to coast - while the teacher tries to get the rest of the class to the minimum standard required for government statistics.

        1. Dr Scrum Master
          Headmaster

          Re: Stream the schools not the children

          Teaching bright pupils is intellectually demanding of teachers. Too often the the bright ones are left on their own to coast - while the teacher tries to get the rest of the class to the minimum standard required for government statistics.

          My experience was that the the bright ones amongst us would go off and teach ourselves. The teacher would then concentrate of the bottom third of the class while the middle third were left with little attention.

      3. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Re: Stream the schools not the children

        The top 10% will succeed anywhere. It is the middle 30/40% who suffer most because they will already have been written off.

        In many cases it's actually the opposite - yes, the top 10% will do well, but many schools will actually concentrate a lot of resources on the middle 30%, the ones who are borderline "C/D" grade because league tables mean that just pushing a few more children out of "D" and into "C" counts for a *lot* more than getting C-grade children to achieve a B, or B to achieve an A. (A to A* is a different matter).

        I'm using "old fashioned" grades because that is what they still use where I live, and I haven't quite got my head around the boundaries between the new 9 - 1 numerical grades.

        M.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Stream the schools not the children

        "Anyone who remembers the 1970s comprehensive systems will remember how poor they were because so little was expected of those who went."

        The idea was good. Merge the three types of post-1944 single sex secondary schools into big local campuses for boys and girls together. Then you can afford to employ specialist teachers for all subjects and stream the pupils by subject ability as they mature.

        My Technical High School was merged like that. Some of our good teachers transferred to the new establishment. On paper it looked good. The former Secondary Modern pupils could now enjoy the very modern facilities of the High School campus - although extra buildings were added to accommodate the large increase in the roll.

        The Sixth Forms from the High Schools were hived off to form a new "college" - giving those pupils a more adult environment.

        According to teachers memories 40 years later it was not a success. The large number of pupils made it difficult to maintain an ethos. Academic standards dropped. Discipline also started to fail - possibly because there was no longer the "bridge" of Sixth Formers acting as prefects and role models.

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: Stream the schools not the children

          The large number of pupils made it difficult to maintain an ethos.

          Can I suggest that it wasn't the large number of pupils - per se - that made this difficult, but rather the merging of three or six (or whatever it was) schools that would previously have seen each other as rivals. If you have spent the last five years throwing abuse at the "posh kids" from the school down the road, how on earth do teachers suddenly persuade you to smile nicely to each other in the classroom?

          There's a similar situation - worse in some ways - developing at the school my children attend.

          For political reasons, what should have been two completely separate schools, ten miles apart, have been run by the same management since the second school opened. Unfortunately, management is more interested in the older school which admittedly has more pupils (though not very many more now) but also for geographic reasons probably has more borderline C/D pupils than the newer site (see my previous post). Children rarely travel between sites (and get abuse from the "locals" when they do) and most teachers spend all or nearly all of their time based at one site or the other. There is very little sense among pupils (or some staff) that they are actually "one school". The successful sports teams, for example, are the ones based at one or other site, while the whole-school choir has had all sorts of problems.

          Unfortunately the policy (for now) is to site sixth form students only at the older site. Students from the newer site are very wary of this and many (more than would normally do so) have chosen to "jump ship" and take sixth-form studies at one of the local colleges instead.

          M.

        2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

          Re: Stream the schools not the children

          Yep. That's what happened to me. The resulting comprehensive was shit. Anyone not in the top stream was regarded as a total failure and suitable only for unskilled jobs.

          If you did your homework, you were beaten up. Do it again and you got it worse. The neanderthals ruled.

          Some of us got out and made a life for ourselves despite the best efforts of the system to keep us in our place.

      5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Stream the schools not the children

        "this idea that it is a panacea to education is a middle class sop."

        That may be because some of us middle class came up from distinctly non-middle class backgrounds via grammar schools and can see the advantages.

      6. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: Stream the schools not the children

        "Anyone who remembers the 1970s comprehensive systems will remember how poor they were because so little was expected of those who went."

        You've got that the wrong way around, I was there. Anyone who remembers the 1970s comprehensive systems will remember how *GOOD* they were because so much was done to provide teaching appropriate to the abilities of the pupils instead of square-pegging everybody. My school was in the first wave of comprehensives in my city and featured in Panorama or World in Action (can't remember which) as parents jumped through hoops to try and get out of grammar-school catchment areas to get into the catchment.

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: Stream the schools not the children

          You've got that the wrong way around

          I think he mis-typed. Most of the following comments seem to have taken it for granted that he meant "anyone who remembers the 1970s Secondary Modern schools..."

          :-)

          M.

      7. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

        Re: Stream the schools not the children

        "Firstly any testing advantages the upper to middle classes who can afford to cram the test (and all tests can)."

        So it accurately advantages children who will either work hard, or be forced to work hard by the parents, at the expense of children ( or parents ) that cannot be arsed.

        Absent a better solution ( there aren't any ), this is a good solution.

    2. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: Stream the schools not the children

      The education system is failing at all levels. It fails to properly develop the bright children because it stuffs them (*) into bog-standard comps.

      There is some logic in your argument, but please, please don't advocate for the return of Grammar schools and the 11+ because the quota system means that a (variable) number of "borderline" children each year are condemned to a second-tier education. Some children mature more quickly than others and due to the way our schools are organised into cohorts (best of luck changing that one) it is entirely possible for children in the same cohort to be almost a whole year different in ages.

      My eldest, for example, is, and always will be the oldest child in his year (in fact his school at the moment) because he was born at about 1am on September the 1st. In that sense he has had a developmental advantage over many of his classmates.

      My youngest was born half way through August and has the exact opposite problem. In y6 she will be looking forward to her 11th birthday while some of her classmates are mere weeks off their 12th.

      Comprehensive schools were originally born in a spirit of optimism and decent budgets and in those circumstances they can work very well. It doesn't matter if only five children want to take music (for example) or there are only ten top-set children taking extended maths - it may in itself be a "loss making" subject, but what counts is that things balance as a whole.

      The school attended by my eldest has (effectively) in his year three academic "streams" and children can, and do, move between them during their school career. This makes a difference to their futures. For example, top stream children get to take "triple science" at GCSE while middle stream children take a "double award". Top stream children take French as a compulsory GCSE subject, while middle and lower stream children have to choose to do a Modern Foreign Language as one of their optional subjects - and all streams get just three options.

      I know of several children who would have been borderline passes of the 11+, or would have failed it, who have subsequently been moved up a set or two, and it's no good saying that in your system they could move schools, because certainly in the past that was only possible in exceptional circumstances, and of course it also means moving friends and peer groups which is hard.

      Separated schools also raises the possibility of children being in different schools and all the taxi-driving hassles that involves (yes, I have more than two children, yes they are at different schools).

      M.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Stream the schools not the children

        "[...] please don't advocate for the return of Grammar schools and the 11+ because the quota system means that a (variable) number of "borderline" children each year are condemned to a second-tier education."

        In the 1950/60s there was also the 13+ entry to 11+ High Schools - often doubling the number of 3rd Year forms. The GCE "O" Level curricula started in that form - but the new intake would have needed extra coaching on basics in some subjects.There was also provision for an extra year after the 5th Form just for "O" Level re-sits.

        In my VIth Form in the 1960s we were in favour of Comprehensives. We all knew Junior School pals who had "failed" the 11+. Yet they would have been better suited to the demands of our High School than were some of our 11+ intake.

        One local Secondary Modern delighted in producing GCE "O" Level results every year that were as good as any of the High Schools.

        I was the only person to pass the 11+ at my Junior School for several years. Yet an apparently identical school in the same catchment area had several passes every year. My Secondary School records showed that I was about the lowest 11+ ranking in my year's intake. Yet I immediately dominated the annual examination results as I had always done at Junior School.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Stream the schools not the children

        >My eldest, for example, is, and always will be the oldest child in his year (in fact his school at the moment) because he was born at about 1am on September the 1st. In that sense he has had a developmental advantage over many of his classmates.

        >My youngest was born half way through August and has the exact opposite problem. In y6 she will be looking forward to her 11th birthday while some of her classmates are mere weeks off their 12th.

        Last time I looked at this (3-4 years ago), the average performance at GCSE level dropped by ~1.5% per month of birth after September. So kids born in August were performing about 18% worse than kids from the same school year born in September.

    3. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: Stream the schools not the children

      "So in a class of 30 there are already 10 not really at home there."

      So what idiot is putting them together in that one class? Each 20% should be in their own class with their own 20%-ers, not mixed up randomly with other people.

      Oo, wait a bit, disparity of acheivement is anathema to the all-must-achieve mindset, so mixing up abilities randomly is the intention, not an accident.

    4. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: Stream the schools not the children

      Streaming by schools doesn't work. What do you do with the kid who's in the top 20% in maths, but the bottom 20% in French? Go to Grammar school on Monday morning, then Secondary Modern after morning break, then back to Grammer after lunch. No, the only workable system is streaming *within* a school, so you're in Mr Giles' maths class at 9:30, then Mrs Chamber's French class at 10:30 *in* *the* *same* *building*.

      1. Roo
        Windows

        Re: Stream the schools not the children

        "Streaming by schools doesn't work."

        It can't work effectively in sparsely populated rural areas, because the distances between schools is too great. I wish folks would apply a bit of grey matter to the outliers of this problem before dictating their one-true solution. :)

        I believe that local authorities need more say in how they fund and deliver their services, combined with a well funded agency that ensures standards are met across the country... Sort of what we have now - but with ministers surrendering much of their budget to local authorities. I don't think it's reasonable or even plausible to expect someone who has rarely stepped out of the SE England bubble or worked a trade to be qualified, let alone equipped to make decisions at regional level.

        I think it would substantially reduce graft and wastage too... Case in point I heard of an incident where a minister was refusing to hand out funding unless a local gov agreed upfront to spend the money with the minister's preferred vendor (that just happened to be owned by a sibling of said minister supplying services priced at 160x the going market rate).

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: Stream the schools not the children

          It can't work effectively in sparsely populated rural areas

          Good point, and the same goes for the policy of so-called "choice".

          I believe that local authorities need more say in how they fund and deliver their services

          You may not be aware that most secondaries and many primaries in England (notably, not in the other parts of the UK) have been converted - willingly or unwillingly - to Academy Schools. These schools get their funding directly from the Department and the local authority has no say at all in how they are run.

          This has had a negative impact on many of the services that are traditionally provided centrally. Music and Pupil Support (special needs children in mainstream schools) come to mind. Academy schools are able to choose where to spend their money, or indeed whether to spend it at all. They are also free to create their own curriculum, ignoring the National Curriculum.

          The upshot is that (for example) in many schools it is no longer possible for children to learn to play a musical instrument for free or at low subsidised cost or to take part in youth orchestras. Because of the reduced revenue, centralised music services are closing down, hurting even those schools which are willing to continue to fund them.

          There are some things which work well when subjected to the full force of capitalism. There are others that really do not. Education is - I'd suggest - one of those latter things. Transport infrastructure may be another, and Health is definitely a third: Little-known Nye Bevan quote

          M.

    5. IT Hack

      Re: Stream the schools not the children

      If our powers that be really gave a figs ear regarding the education of our nation we would not be having this discussion.

      Grammar schools are not effective if you want to have a real open and democratic country (the number of MP's who went to comprehensive schools stood at 51% in 2017 - https://www.channel4.com/news/factcheck/factcheck-qa-how-posh-is-parliament).

      The issue is actually quite simple to resolve. Problem is that it costs money and of course spending money on investing in the strategic future of the country is clearly socialist and utterly barmy magic money tree.

      Kids are kids and have friends throughout their childhood. So why break those relationships up when instead those who need coaching get the required amount and those who are brighter or have specific educational needs or challenges get the support they need from their teachers but...shock horror their own friends! Imagine that!

      Another huge error was made when idiots decided that renaming polytechnics to universities would be a good idea coz now we can offer degree courses in fucking golf fucking course fucking design.

    6. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

      Re: Stream the schools not the children

      I see my argument has drawn many replies about grammar schools, but none about the education of midstream and weak pupils; and none about my suggestions re the civil service.

      I accept that any selection scheme such as I propose will have to have provisions for borderline cases. But children are examined so often in schools today that a flexible mechanism should be possible.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Stream the schools not the children

        Grammar schools.

        They do not work and only serve to reduce social mobility.

        Children at 11 from school can't complete the Grammar test because they have not been taught to the standard required or lack the knowledge required. Children whose parent can afford tuition enable their children to pass the test, parents who can't only have their children pass if they are exceptionally bright. Tories and their supporters want this separation because it allows the same families to stay or move up class and the plebs to stay right where they are.

        That's why in my opinion they are a very bad idea. Having sets for subjects in schools and encouraging children to work hard to move up is the right way to do it.

        1. romanempire
          Mushroom

          Re: Stream the schools not the children

          I agree. Especially in light of my experience of selection in York (one of the hold-out authorities) in the early seventies. Having just moved back to the country I faced doing an 11+ in a room at the local education office one dark December evening without a clue what it was or how it was going to set in fucking stone the very limited educational opportunities available to me if I failed. When the useless waste-of-space dolts realised I was considerably brighter than the original test indicated, all they would offer me was a move to another 'secondary modern'. I suppose moving me to a 'grammar' would have been an admission of their flawed testing.

          So, while in principle the idea of selective education has some merit, the practise would probably leave a lot to be desired. Knowledgeable parents would game the system so that it wouldn't be a test of the child's ability but rather the parents.

          (Icon for what I'd like to have done to the hellhole school I went to)

          P.

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Stream the schools not the children

          "They do not work and only serve to reduce social mobility."

          My primary was a small local village school. Nobody there could afford coaching. Some of us passed 11+, some didn't. I expect it was the same for all the other schools in the catchment area although many would have been larger.

          There were a relatively small number who went to a small fee-paying school run by the grammar school head-master's wife (!). I'm not sure how much that affected their actual chances of passing.

          Getting into grammar school was an opportunity, if you took it, for social mobility. Some did take it, some didn't. I've no idea where I'd have ended up without that opportunity but following a professional career doesn't seem very likely.

      2. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Re: Stream the schools not the children

        I see my argument has drawn many replies about grammar schools, but none about the education of midstream and weak pupils

        I think - if you read the replies properly (and I'll admit that mine are some of the longest, sorry) - that many people have talked about the midstream. It all comes together. If you talk about "streaming schools" then almost by definition you are talking about Grammar Schools, and if you talk about the "top 20%" then you have instantly highlighted (highlit?) the basic inequity of streaming pupils at age 11.

        As JGH and others have pointed out, pupils mature at different rates, and age 11 - 13 is the period where the greatest differences are apparent and (in general) girls are way ahead of boys both in terms of social maturity and often mental acuity. It is at this point that education needs to be the most flexible, not the least. Where one pupil who is brilliant at maths but finds English difficult can be both in the top set for maths, and perhaps in a lower set for English, so that their maths is stretched and their English is developed.

        In a Grammar school, such a pupil might be fine with the maths, but find themselves struggling at the bottom of the class in English while the other pupils race on ahead. At a "secondary modern", such a pupil might have their English brought up to a standard where a good B or C passing grade is possible, but find that they get bored at maths and perhaps - perhaps because this is the policy of the school - they are not even entered for the correct papers to enable them to get an "A*".

        If you stream schools then again, almost by definition, you have lots of small grammar schools for the top 20% (this is mainly good, for those pupils) and you have lots of small "special" schools (to use a term that is utterly out of favour now) for the bottom 15% or 20%.

        Then, of course, the middle 60% get put into a few huge "secondary moderns" where they are often lost in the crowd.

        Then there's the social aspect. Yes, some low-ability pupils can be disruptive, but that is not a given, and allowing them to mix with more able peers and (crucially) allowing more able pupils to mix with those of lower capabilities helps people come to terms with the fact that we are not all the same.

        Far, far better, to have lots of mixed ability schools - note I am not advocating completely mixed ability classes - where there is flexibility to move between levels for different subjects. Many schools already achieve this, though it gets more difficult when you start GCSEs due to timetabling constraints. I fell foul of this myself for my O-levels, where because of one choice of subject I could not be put into the "higher" Geography class, and found myself in the "lower" one. The curriculum was the same, but discipline was more difficult. It was hard, but thanks to the help of the Letts revision book and a very patient mother, Geography ended up being one of my two "A" grades.

        and none about my suggestions re the civil service.

        I think we all agree that the civil service needs a good seeing-to (ooo-er missus) but you aren't exactly expansive about your thoughts on the matter, so it's difficult to comment on them. Perhaps if you had explained further?

        M.

  9. BoldMan

    There is not a STEM skills shortage - there is a shortage of decently paid STEM careeer opportunities! Fucking pay a decent salary and there won't be a fucking shortage of employees! Pay the risable and pathetic amounts I see from recruiters all fucking day long and you will get numpties and nobodies!

    Oh and while I'm at it, make the qualifications and experience required for jobs sensible rather than ask for 5 years experience in a technology that only existed for 3 years!

    Fuckwits the lot of them!!!!

    (I need beer, today is going down the tubes rapidly!!!)

    1. hammarbtyp Silver badge

      There is not a STEM skills shortage - in some areas.

      In industries which are mature or have been running for some time, yes, there may be enough people.

      It is in the future industries where the skill set is lacking because universities etc have not caught up with it yet

      For example there is a huge shortage of power engineers as car manufacturers move to electrical propulsion. the problem is by the time the government cottons on to this and it has gone through the various committees and horse trading the industries will either have stalled due to lack of human resources or moved elsewhere where they can attract the right expertise

      Knowledge is the new industrial resource. Suggesting that you can predict and control where and when to get it is akin to old Soviet Union 5 year industrial plan

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "It is in the future industries where the skill set is lacking because universities etc have not caught up with it yet"

        University degree technical courses have always lagged behind industry's new needs. They construct teaching programmes that are supposed to develop disciplined intellectual thinking skills - together with a grounding in basic knowledge of the subject. Once in a while they adjust that basic knowledge to reflect more recently established industry practice.

        The IT industry in the early 1960s recruited some Oxbridge 1sts in Maths - but many of the creative staff came up the ranks. In the late 1960s there was a move to recruit graduates in any subject - the belief being that university had equipped them with thinking skills. Alas a degree in History and Politics did not help someone who could not grasp the hex numbering system when dropped into a technical role.

        It was while after that before universities offered Computer Science courses - and the IT industry started to make that their recruitment threshold. The complaint from Tom Thomson in the 1970s was that it took longer to train those graduates - because they thought they had learned everything there was to know about computing.

        1. Missing Semicolon Silver badge
          Unhappy

          "...the skill set is lacking because universities etc have not caught up with it yet"

          Yeah. Companies used to do this thing... ooo what was it... oh, I remember! TRAINING!

          Even for graduates!

          Instead, you hire a fully qualified experienced grad from abroad. Result, nobody gains the relevant experience.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: "...the skill set is lacking because universities etc have not caught up with it yet"

            "Instead, you hire a fully qualified experienced grad from abroad. Result, nobody gains the relevant experience."

            Except the grad from abroad if their experience wasn't quite what they'd claimed.

      2. Roland6 Silver badge

        >For example there is a huge shortage of power engineers as car manufacturers move to electrical propulsion.

        I think you will find there isn't really a huge shortage of power engineers, the problem is that employers want graduates with current industry knowledge and experience, just as they did with Computing graduates in my day, because they didn't want to make the investment in people...

        Additionally, I expect 'industry' doesn't want to pay premium salaries to such graduates...

        1. Fed2

          Alan

          I suspect that there isn't a real shortage in the computing industry either - it's that the companies don't want to take adequately qualified candidates who are over 50 ( or even over 35 in some cases). Since they are not allowed to say that's the reason, they give the reason "Wouldn't fit in with the culture..."

          It may be that BREXIT will actually force them to start taking on these people, because there are no alternatives :)

    2. tiggity Silver badge

      @ BoldMan

      Saved me having to make that same comment

      When you can easily earn far more just spouting BS (lots of sales / management folk)

      .. or doing easy maths (accountancy)

      .. then why bother with difficult, badly paid stuff? *

      * obv plenty of reasons people do

      e.g. Aspie so cannot do jobs that need lots of lies / BS

      e.g. Enjoy the challenge and can cope on crap money

      .. else the system would be in (proper) meltdown

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        ".. or doing easy maths (accountancy)"

        A young friend with good STEM skills did Economics at university - which had some heavy maths. After graduation he was employed by one of the big accountancy firms. Getting his Chartered Accountant status was several years of hard slog of on the job work and formal examinations - with a failure at any exam stage meaning a loss of the job. The drop out rate was quite high.

        After that he found that the job involved long anti-social hours. He finally gave up what was a fabulous salary in order to do something else that had a better work/home balance.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Supply and demand says if there is a shortage then wages will shoot up. Yet corporate lawyers and MBAs earn more than techies and no one is clamouring to open the floodgates and import more of them. Why is that?

    1. Herring`

      Yet corporate lawyers and MBAs earn more than techies and no one is clamouring to open the floodgates and import more of them.

      It's my considered opinion that if we deported everyone with an MBA, the country would function so much better. I reckon Douglas Adams had the idea before me though

  11. hammarbtyp Silver badge

    So many issues...

    So much to say here, where to start...

    Schools - STEM subjects are highly specialized and expensive, which is why schools struggle to attract specialist teachers and fund the equipment needed. ICT is my particular bugbear, which in most schools is given a very low priority and taught by non-specialists. Where STEM works best is when there is someone tasked at the school for STEM coordination. The STEM ambassador program was setup to encourage buiness and schools to coordinate. In most schools this is only lip service, with no forward planning.

    Education - While university STEM education is great, where it falls down is before and after. Before because science is treated with disdain by both politicians and certain media and schools struggle to sell it as a career choice. After, because most UK companies treat STEM personal just above assembly drones, and offer no long term career structure. Not only that but Adult education provision in the UK is pretty shocking meaning that re-training is virtually impossible with huge cost and effort

    Government - The government says the right things, but when it comes to implementation with real resources these instantly disappear. For example say industry said we need 1000 more power engineers (and we really do). The DTi will say we need more engineers, Home office will say they need to be locally sourced because all the Visa caps has been filled with doctors and nurses, Education tells universities to make some, universities can't because a) they cannot source lecturers from abroad b) Foreign student are capped because they count as immigration c) British students are put off due to high university fees and poor starting salaries.

    The other thing government fails to realize is that in a knowledge based economy which most western governments are, the attraction of the top talent is essential where ever they are from. The suggestion that we should just train our own is a bit like saying Barcelona or Real Madrid should just train their own

    Messi or Ronaldo. These are the people who produce the innovations and breakthroughsm, and make the industries for the rest of us

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: So many issues...

      You forgot the bit where everyone then redefines gym receptionists as sport scientists and fast food employees as food scientists to show they have met some improvement metric or to score some tax break

      1. johnaaronrose

        Re: So many issues...

        AFAIK Britain is one of the few 'Advanced' countries where an Engineering Technician (e.g. car mechanic, boiler installer/maintainer) is called an Engineer. This shows the low regard in which proper Engineers are held in Britain. Of course, Engineering Technicians should be respected for their skills & knowledgeas well.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: So many issues...

          Oh god, yes this. I am embarrassed that my ID card says "IT Engineer" on it even though what I actually do isn't even IT Technician. In plumbing terms I'd say I'm an IT Fitter

          Anon obsv, as my employer may read this. :(

      2. cbars

        Re: So many issues...

        rubbish:

        "students are put off due to high university fees and poor starting salaries"

        If so, then the continually increasing tuition fees would have had an actual impact on student numbers. It doesn't seem to have done so.

        If so, then there wouldn't be so many humanities graduates working in fast food restaurants because they've suddenly realised that the only careers open to their skill set are teaching others the skill set or being a politician.

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: So many issues...

          If so, then the continually increasing tuition fees would have had an actual impact on student numbers. It doesn't seem to have done so.

          At 17 / 18, would you have been fully aware of the potential impact of a £30,000 - £40,000 debt? Would you have been able to understand the implications of a 6% interest rate over the first five years of your career where you aren't actually repaying the loan because you don't earn enough, or the effect this would have on your credit rating or your ability to rent a flat or raise a mortgage?

          Or would you have listened to your careers adviser saying "Get a degree, you'll get a better job with a higher wage. It doesn't really matter what the degree is".

          I think politicians are skirting over the fact that current thinking is that nearly half of all student loans will never be repaid. Maybe by the time they've left university, graduates have realised this and so are perfectly happy to sit in dead-end jobs at just below the repayment threshold, knowing that by the time they reach 50 the loan will be written off.

          M.

          1. cbars

            Re: So many issues...

            Martin au gof

            "would you have been fully aware of the potential impact of a £30,000 - £40,000 debt?"

            Yes. That's what I left with. Lots of my friends will never pay it off, I nearly have. Physics provided lots of career opportunities, English didn't. I was among the first year of "raised" tuition fees, so ~£3000 per year just to be enrolled. Now we're talking £9000 a year, so debt is more like £50000 to do my course. Would I still risk it? Not for History, not a chance.

            Tuition fee and interest rate rises were introduced nearly 15 years ago, there's a lot of people wandering about with this debt, not just "the kids" - don't make the assumption that you're conversing with a peer.

            1. Martin an gof Silver badge

              Re: So many issues...

              don't make the assumption that you're conversing with a peer.

              I wasn't making that assumption. I am fortunate to have just about scraped through a degree course before tuition fees and loans came in and I am fully aware of the vast difference that has made to my subsequent career choices. I did go back to do a postgrad course later on, and am still - 18 years after finishing that one-year course - paying the loan off.

              No, my question was in reply to the comment about whether it's worthwhile getting into so much debt. I was wondering just how many 18 year olds can truly grasp what they are about to let themselves in for.

              The careers advice they are getting will (mostly) be delivered by people like me, who have never had to worry about the debt getting a degree can saddle you with (or who have the much lower level of debt from the early years). When I was growing up, going to university was an aspiration. It would help you get out of the dirty, physical, badly-rewarded "careers" that our parents and grandparents suffered*. Apprenticeships were in a severe decline and the kinds of industries which offered them locally - heavy engineering, steelmaking, coal mining - simply don't exist any more (I'm about an hour away from Port Talbot if that counts).

              That sort of careers advice often isn't relevant these days, and to be frank there are many careers where a degree isn't actually necessary, though the degree-holding management of those employers may not realise that fact.

              M.

              *I'm speaking generally. I grew up in the south Wales valleys where a large proportion of my peers' parents and grandparents were of coal mining and other heavy industry stock. Personally I was better off. One grandfather worked in the docks, but the other was a chartered accountant (latterly with the NCB). One grandmother was a seamstress, but the other was (until she married) a teacher, and both my parents were teachers too, though my dad started off as a mechanical engineer. Only my mother had any kind of degree. These days you wouldn't even get in the to the ground floor of those careers without one.

    2. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: So many issues...

      ICT is my particular bugbear, which in most schools is given a very low priority and taught by non-specialists.

      In England, of course, you can no longer take ICT; it's Computer Science now and there is good evidence that the number of pupils taking CS is a lot lower than those who used to take ICT.

      In Wales, both are still available and certainly at my children's school it is interesting to note that the teachers have consistently said things along the lines of "you don't want to take CS because it's too hard and the pass rate is low. Take ICT instead, it's still a GCSE and most employers will count it exactly the same".

      Of course what they mean is "please take the easier subject so our percentage of good grades improves".

      Oh, and it isn't (completely) true, either. Last year's ICT and CS A*-C results for this examination board were 69.9% and 60.3% respectively. Note that Physics was 92.1% and Chemistry 91.8%!

      M.

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: So many issues...

        The problem is, you see the words "Computer Science" and take it at its words and you think it is actually computer science. It isn't, it's typing. It's the today's IT equivalent of teaching how to use a pen and paper was 50 years ago. It's advertising "automotive engineering" and teaching you how to drive a car.

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: So many issues...

          you see the words "Computer Science" and take it at its words and you think it is actually computer science. It isn't, it's typing.

          I think that was true of the ICT courses (Information Communication Technology), but today's Computer Science courses are actually more like the O- and A-levels I studied, with modules on the fundamentals of computing including maths, logic, program design and suchlike and even a project which involves actual "programming" (mind you, the GCSE syllabus for our local exam board says this can be undertaken in languages as diverse as Python, Pascal, Delphi, VB.net, C (etc.) and PHP!)

          WJEC Computer Science Specification

          M.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: So many issues...

      "STEM subjects are highly specialized and expensive, which is why schools struggle to attract specialist teachers and fund the equipment needed."

      I say, chaps. Maths doesn't need all that expensive equipment so let's just have them teach maths. It'll be a lot cheaper and it's STEM just like the rest so it doesn't make any difference.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So many issues...

      "STEM subjects are highly specialized and expensive, which is why schools struggle to attract specialist teachers and fund the equipment needed."

      That was the same argument given when the Junior Technical Schools were underfunded. They were however successful at placing their pupils in craft employment. The privileged Grammar Schools had a poor record for employment of their 16 year old leavers - for whom the staple menial clerical jobs became scarce.

      After 1944 the new 11+ Secondary Technical Schools had the same problem. Although often better funded initially - they were soon merged with 11+ Grammar/Academic High Schools for economies - and then with Secondary Moderns to make Comprehensives.

      There have since been several periodic wailings about the need for dedicated STEM secondary education - and the solutions have always petered out when the extra costs came home to budgets.

    5. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: So many issues...

      The suggestion that we should just train our own is a bit like saying Barcelona or Real Madrid should just train their own...

      The trouble is that the UK establishment has interpreted this as meaning it is pointless training our own when it is so much cheaper to import people...

      We've seen this just recently with the UK governments decision over nurses, where it has simply exempted nurses from it's immigration caps and no mention of any additional funding etc. of local training and capability development...

      To succeed in a knowledge-based economy, you have to have the means of producing workers who can work in a knowledge-based economy. Hence education becomes very important; so we don't have a 1000 power engineers today sitting around waiting for a job, can you wait six months while we upskill a bunch of power/electrical engineering graduates?

      It is because the UK establishment hasn't understand such matters that life post-Brexit will be much harder than they need to be.

  12. Seanmon

    Well they wouldn't, would they? STEM-educated people tend to deal in facts, evidence, problems and solutions. These types of people don't usually go in for careers where the main skills required are bullshitting, backstabbing, disloyalty and rabble rousing.

    I recall a school visit from my then-MP, who had previously been a well regarded neurosurgeon. He admitted his medical training hampered him as an MP because "he had a tendancy to want to answer the question."

  13. steviebuk Silver badge

    It's fine...

    ...they'll just outsource EVERYTHING to Crapita.

  14. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    There isn't a skills gap, there's an employers-prepared-to-get-off-their-arse-and-employ-people gap.

    1. tiggity Silver badge

      .. and back in the day, if there was a skills gap, a company trained people up (and with a golden handcuffs deal to stop them just up skilling and leaving ASAP)

      BTW To avoid debts I know a few people who got STEM style skills via armed forces paying their degree and they had to work for the forces for a few years afterwards as "payback" - not sure if the forces still subsidize degrees these days with cuts though (& CBA to search engine it)

  15. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Flame

    Perhaps

    it would be better if the Mps et al were made aware of how much skill and knowledge it takes to produce stuff nowadays.

    Sure we still have unskilled operators ... 8 of them , however 1 of them wants to convert to being one of the STEM type people the robot/machine setters are... so we gave him a list

    We'll start with

    PC literate(and that doesn't mean being able to open a mS doc)

    Able to learn the CAM system used

    Able to set 5 axis machine tools. fun (not)

    Make sure the robots are loaded with the correct programs.

    Run through the cycle safely diagnosing any faults and correcting them

    A large knowledge of material properties, cutter properties and the proper use of both will be handy

    Along with the ability to design setups from 'heres the back of a fag packet' all the way upto a functioning machine tool cell making 30 widgets a minute, or a £25 000 one off tool plate thats needed 3 days ago

    Oh and the pay.... 25K if you're lucky .. maybe 32k if you do 50hr+ weeks

    In other words, just like every other STEM job out there.... a huge amount of knowledge needed just to be able to do it, combined with a shite amount of pay(and a fair amount of stress... because its always the techies fault something is late/does'nt work, not the highly regarded PHB who hasnt a fucking clue how to do his job)

    1. Roo
      Windows

      Re: Perhaps

      "it would be better if the Mps et al were made aware of how much skill and knowledge it takes to produce stuff nowadays."

      I can't upvote that enough and I'd add the top echelons of Manglement to that list of people who need to be made aware. This "agile workforce" shit has to end too - to do good quality work you need some time to learn how to do it.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Victory for the Gerontocracy

    This all comes down to money & funding for education & training. There is only a certain amount of money that it is politically possible to extract from the population. The Gerontocracy make sure that it is spent on keeping the over 60's alive (& voting) via the NHS, and not invested in the education system where it could make a real difference.

  17. codejunky Silver badge

    Not shocked

    "The UK government doesn't know what science and tech skills the economy needs or how Brexit will affect firms' ability to recruit staff, MPs have warned."

    Centrally planned economies dont work?

    "A further problem is the state of education in the STEM field. This includes funding and incentives for teacher training, lacklustre careers advice in schools and colleges, insufficient efforts to address gender imbalance, and outdated training schemes."

    Teacher training as a bit of a joke and that is not the teachers fault. I had the great pleasure of helping a few teachers when the latest 'teach kids programming' initiative made its way to school. Careers advice was a joke when I was at school (a while ago) and I dount there has been much improvement if everyone was funnelled into college and uni. The gender imbalance when talking about technical skills shows a committee making a donkey. If you need skills you need skills not genitals (unless its sex work).

    Worryingly some people call for more government.

  18. cd

    I"d like to know why it's the government's responsibility to do vocational training. To me it's a form of corporate welfare. If corps want STEM quals, let them offer private schools funded by themselves after doing some screening.

    All they're going to do is use STEM people to undermine every other occupation anyway, it's all about automation. Why should we pay to help them with that?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "I"d like to know why it's the government's responsibility to do vocational training. To me it's a form of corporate welfare. If corps want STEM quals, let them offer private schools funded by themselves after doing some screening."

      That is effectively how the old apprenticeship system used to work. But these days, human rights mean you can't force people to work for you after you've spent all that money training them when they decide they want to go work somewhere else (for whatever reason). However, there were some really shitty employers back then too, so a return to indentures probably would not be a good idea.

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