Cedefop, the Thessaloniki-based European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, predicts that this year, there will be a shortage of 380,000–700,000 ICT workers in Europe. Germany alone is short of 114,000 STEM-skilled workers in January 2015.
It doesn’t take a STEM-skilled Rocket Scientist to work out the problem. There’s not enough qualified talent in Europe to meet demand. STEM skills (i.e. those IT-type skillsets that typically emanate from the disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Manufacturing) fell off a cliff a generation ago, in most countries, on all continents. Only Brazil and China are ‘self-sufficient’ in producing enough home-grown technical talent.
How will Europe respond to such a damaging talent shortfall? In the short-term, it’s very difficult to see where a response can come from. The past decade has seen a global race for STEM skills, being as they are the key drivers of innovation (particularly in manufacturing, the sector which has helped Asian economies grow exponentially). World-wide, there are few talent markets with the sufficient skills to meet the demand. In the world’s largest economy – the US – imported talent is necessary to meet increasing demand. Across North America, STEM employment has grown three times more than non-STEM employment over the last 12 years – with several large US firms having to move their R&D operations offshore. Because the people ‘aren’t there’.
Europe is in a similar position to the US, but with less flexible immigration policies to address market demand. China, as you might expect, is on the rise in terms of STEM-skill supply. During the 11th five year guideline (2006-2010) a staggering $32 billion state investment has produced equally staggering results: this year, 41% of all Chinese students will graduate with a STEM-related degree. The rest of the world is catching up – Accenture predicts that Brazil will have increased its engineering graduate base by 68% between 2010 and 2016, producing more PhD engineers than the US by 2016. And talent is moving around – last year, some 30% of start-ups in Bangalore and Beijing were set up by graduates of US universities.
Longer-term, Europe has an opportunity to recover. But it will require a paradigm shift. The skillsets within Science, Technology, Engineering and Manufacturing started out as the domain of male workers. And they remain so. The answer is to change educational systems – and, to a degree, the values that dictate social conditioning. That is the only ‘real’ way to transform the STEM skills shortage for the next generation because, demographically, a sufficient talent pool simply isn’t there – at the moment.