Why 2015's STEM A-level results are good news for UK businesses - and how more can be done

Businesses have long reported a skills gap when it comes to STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects in the workforce, a chasm exacerbated by the prevalence of data.

In today’s workplace, the need for greater data literacy is critical. Without data literate employees, businesses will miss out on the efficiency and insights needed to remain competitive.

As it stands, four out of five UK businesses struggle to recruit the necessary talent (Model Workers Report, 2014). Why? Put simply, there aren’t enough skilled candidates to meet the industry’s employment requirements. What’s more, business leaders estimate that it could take over ten years to bridge this gap (YouGov’s STEM Skills Gap Report, 2013). This poses a severe risk to the economic progress of Britain’s business future.

But there is hope – in the UK, more students are choosing A-levels in STEM subjects than ever before. Results announced last week saw a record high, with the number of students taking STEM A-levels increasing by more than 38,000 since 2010.

This is good news for business. More students with strong A-level results in STEM subjects means there is a greater opportunity to educate students to bring scientific, statistical and data analytics skills into businesses in the future – and kick start a rewarding career path.

As organisations move towards a world of bigger, messier and faster data, data literacy is now a fundamental skill. But the technical and IT experts that companies are currently hiring, aren’t always equipped with the skill sets required to handle the big data revolution. This year for example, Gartner analysts have predicted that up to 85 per cent of Fortune 500 enterprises will be unable to effectively exploit the vast volumes of data at their disposal as a result of inadequate data literacy.

Much more can be done to combat the skills deficiency and it’s up to educational institutions, businesses and the government to work together to ensure school leavers and graduates are prepared for today’s new business landscape. This process should begin in the classroom. Upgrading our schools and universities and embedding digital literacy will help to foster digital interest and skills.

The challenge also calls for greater collaboration between businesses and academia. As it stands, the approach to teaching STEM subjects in universities do not always marry with the needs of employers. Understanding the skills required of graduates in the workplace and ensuring the curricula better reflects this is key to success.

Throughout their careers, today’s students will face complex problems which new technologies will help solve. Academic institutions should therefore introduce tools that students may be exposed to in the workplace, to equip them in the age of data as they move into business.

To this end, Tableau has been working with educational institutions through the Tableau Academic Programme. The Programme puts visual data analytics software into the hands of both teachers and students across subject areas. The aim? To develop data analytics skills in the classroom that will ultimately translate into much needed business insights in the workforce. In so doing, it is hoped that a greater number of students will land jobs after university.

The recent STEM A-level results are promising, but when it comes to preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s workplace, there is more work to be done. I welcome leaders from both the private and public sectors to join in this important conversation.

James Eiloart, VP EMEA, Tableau Software

Image source: Shutterstock/Goodluz