Insights - 10.05.22

Nile Henry: ‘Addressing Greater Manchester’s STEM skills gap.’

The Blair Project’s flagship ProtoEV STEM Challenge has supported more than 560 young people since its launch in 2014. The challenge gives young people from disadvantaged backgrounds knowledge and practical skills in renewable technologies through the retrofitting of petrol go-karts to e-karts.

The Manchester Innovation Activities Hub (MIAH), due to open in Q3 2022, is a collaborative project between The Blair Project and Bruntwood SciTech. It will provide rapid upskilling, reskilling and retraining of Greater Manchester residents, fast tracking them into hard-to-fill occupations requiring specialist technical skills, as part of Greater Manchester’s post COVID recovery plan.

With the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) committing to making Manchester a world leading city for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by 2030, addressing the skills gap and creating a strong talent pipeline is vital.

In order to do this, we need to make STEM engaging not just in the early years, but also later in life. This means training the next generation in STEM skills throughout school and upskilling and reskilling adults.

For Manchester to become a world leader in STEM, alongside and ahead of the likes of Seattle, home of Amazon, and California’s Silicon Valley, we need two things: significant inward investment and productive collaboration.

The UK’s STEM skills shortage is causing problems for many employers. Across the country it costs businesses £1.5 billion each year as a result of additional training costs, recruitment, temporary staffing and inflated salaries. This is compounded by an accelerated growth rate of STEM jobs when compared with non-STEM roles, a trend not looking to slow down. Here in Manchester, 39 per cent of residents work in low-skilled roles, presenting a challenge, but also a significant opportunity to upskill or reskill our workforce.

For those hit by unemployment as a result of the pandemic, predominantly in sectors such as hospitality, leisure and arts, there is a huge opportunity to upskill and reskill. Developing a workforce with the skills required to drive forward Manchester’s vision of becoming a world leader in STEM will require ambitious solutions and commitment from leaders across the city region in all sectors.

MIAH will be unique in the UK, providing a dedicated technical and vocational training space within a major inner-city multi-ethnic residential community. It will be a place to grow an integrated pipeline for talent and skills and support innovative growing companies, as well as individuals who need sustainable jobs as a result of Covid. Schemes like these will ensure those whose livelihoods were affected by the pandemic are able to get back to work, in a higher-skilled area, helping employers find talent with the necessary skills, and creating more high paying jobs for people across Greater Manchester.

Equally as important is engaging and training up the next generation. It’s easy for businesses to consider the existing workforce, as they’re the ones currently in employment. However, to meet these ambitious 2030 targets, as a city region we must commit to the development of our future pipeline of talent.

In Manchester, the percentage of pupils achieving top grades in STEM subjects has fallen slightly since 2016/17 and the difference in grades from national figures has widened. Engaging young people from all backgrounds is vital to closing this gap and ensuring that students are motivated to pursue STEM career options.

This means encouraging young people to choose STEM subjects at university, as well as exploring apprenticeships and entry-level roles in highly skilled careers. While employers may be reluctant to invest in talent that won’t be immediately available, this step is essential in future-proofing businesses and making Manchester a world-leading hub for STEM excellence.

Underpinning all of this must be a commitment to tackling climate change. Education in green technologies will be necessary to ensure that Greater Manchester is a region which harnesses the power of STEM and leads the way in green technologies.

So, how do we make this happen? Firstly, we as a region must invest in those leading the charge in training as well as providing funding to start-ups. Secondly, we must commit to collaboration. We are lucky in Greater Manchester to have such a brilliant network of universities, innovation hubs, employers, skills providers and investors. Let’s use this network and the talent within to ensure that Greater Manchester has the human capital to make us a world leader in STEM by 2030.

Nile Henry, CEO of The Blair Project, is a young leader driven to engage young people from diverse backgrounds in STEM and motorsport, and in turn advance their prospects in STEM careers and green technology.