Tuesday, October 27, 2020
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We must fill these STEM jobs from within

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AN academy school has just opened in Fulham, West London. A pioneering project in association with Imperial College London and Brunel University, it specialises in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) for boys and girls between 11 and 19. 

It is an excellent, exciting initiative. Children of all abilities are accepted and can either go down an academic route or, for the more practically minded, aim for a technical apprenticeship. It even has its own robotics club. As STEM jobs are much in demand, naturally local parents are interested at sending their children there. One can imagine it capturing the imagination of young boys especially, including those from working-class backgrounds who are currently badly failing in education – what could be cooler than building your own T-800 at robotics club?

The number of such schools is slowly increasing, but it is a national scandal that there are still relatively few, and that fewer still, such as the JCB Academy,  seem to be backed by industry and commerce, while tens of thousands of STEM jobs go unfilled in the UK. 

There is no excuse. Free schools have been around for ten years now, and the march to dominance of STEM employment in the digital age has been a trend for considerably longer. By now, the first tranches of highly STEM-educated young people should be stepping out into the world from a multitude of industry-backed specialist schools, ready to take Brexit Britain forward.

They are not, and the problem is not new. Reports about the need for Britain to do better at technical education seem to come around as regularly as the sun rises, but for the average worker skills and prospects don’t really improve. The awful truth is that British industry simply neither knows nor cares enough about the long-term training of its work force. For instance, this typically smug and complacent report by the CBI makes much of industry involvement in education and signals all the usual platitudes, but the fact is that British industry has failed miserably for several years to improve productivity and wages of British workers. One group who have not suffered so much of course are executives, with pay rising far faster than that of average workers.

For all their endless virtue-signalling, the elites of our society are at best apathetic and at worst deeply prejudiced against what they regard as the lower orders of British society, as the aftermath of the EU Referendum so horribly showed. Those at the commanding heights of industry and commerce will not work to resolve the situation while they retain the cheap and easy get-out of hiring foreign nationals on work visas. The problem is especially acute in IT, with whole departments dominated by foreign nationals, mainly from India. As a rule, they are every bit as good as indigenous workers, are highly professional and integrate well, but it is truly shameful that this is happening when so many British youngsters languish with poor skills and prospects.

Although there is of course a case to made for foreign work visas, especially for rapidly expanding start-up ventures in desperate need of highly niche skills, the fact that so many long-established corporations with very deep pockets rely so heavily on them is unacceptable. Rather than tackling this abuse, the government seems intent on making things even worse: as Alp Mehmet reported in TCW a few days ago, lowering the salary cap for foreign work visas and throwing open another 3million jobs to foreign competition. (Of course, it would be an outrageous libel to suggest this has anything at all to do with the bungs – sorry, donations – made by certain corporations to the funds of certain political parties.)

It is plain that the leaders of British industry will not do the right thing unless absolutely forced to. That means holding their feet to the fire, if necessary until they are burnt to cinders. Rather than lowering the salary cap on work visas, a properly conservative government would warn industry that five years from now an escalator clause will be introduced, making it increasingly expensive for any firm which continues to employ large pools of foreign workers year after year after year. This would protect small start-up ventures while hammering the large corporations currently abusing the system. No doubt the Confederation of British Rentseekers and its members will squeal blue murder, but a threat to commercial viability and with it those nice fat executive compensation packages will concentrate the mind wonderfully on teaching British children the relevant skills.  Who knows, after over a century of neglect, a real revolution in technical education may occur as large numbers of industry-backed STEM free schools emerge, not to mention a sharp fall in immigration. Now that really would be something to celebrate.

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Andrew Cadman
IT Consultant who works and lives in the UK. He is @Andrewccadmanon Parler.

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