It's all about people and skills (Day 189)

It's all about people and skills (Day 189)

2nd December 2014

As our population grows and the challenges facing humanity, and the planet, become more acute, who will be able to provide the answers?

Will it be politicians, accountants, teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers or other professions we rely upon to make the world function efficiently?

The quick answer is that all professions will have a role, but, in my opinion, the solutions and catalysts for change will come from the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) community. I believe this will be the case whichever country you live in.

A fifth of the UK workforce is likely to be employed in the science, technology, engineering and maths community by 2030.

So what are the challenges - even before we get to issues like global health, ageing populations, food and water security, achieving low carbon economies, and much more?

One of the main concerns is where the people and skills will come from. By 2030 the number of people in the UK in science-based roles will have grown from 5.8 million to 7.1 million, accounting for a fifth of the workforce.

This equates to a growth of 40,000 skilled people every year. If these numbers are correct, and similar issues occur elsewhere in the world, then humanity is in for a bumpy ride if we don't attract enough people into the sector.

One of the strategies being pursued in the UK to deliver the numbers needed is to create a more diverse workforce. I suspect similar initiatives are underway in other countries.

Here are some of the balancing issues the UK is trying to address:

  • Men from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities are 28 per cent less likely to work in STEM than their white counterparts
  • Students with disabilities are 57 per cent less likely to take up postgraduate STEM study than non-disabled students
  • Just one in twenty women work in science, engineering and technology - compared to around to around one in three men.

Exposing these disappointing numbers should prompt organisations to act, and I'm glad to say that many professional bodies are joining forces to make sure that the STEM community does more to attract a greater diversity of people into academia and industry.

IChemE is one of these organisations committed to change and recently signed the Science Council’s Declaration on Diversity, Equality and Inclusion.

Back row (left to right): Sandra Kerr, director of race for opportunity and member of the Science Council's Diversity Strategy Group; James Smith - chair of the Science Council's Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Strategy Group and former chair of Shell UK; Andy Furlong - IChemE director of policy. Front row: Professor Tom Blundell - president of the Science Council and chair of board; and Alana Collis - IChemE technical policy manager, who signs IChemE's commitment to the 'Declaration on Diversity, Equality and Inclusion'.

The initiative brings together professional bodies from across science to work towards a workforce that represents those it serves.

The Declaration centres on a collaborative approach, encouraging shared learning and expertise within its wide range of signing organisations.

The Declaration sits alongside the Royal Academy of Engineering's Diversity Concordat - which IChemE also supports.

I would like to offer my personal support to initiatives like these and it would be good to hear from colleagues around the world about similar challenges and solutions. Thanks for reading my blog.


Other member bodies signing the Declaration on Diversity, Equality and Inclusion on 6th October 2014 are:

  • College of Podiatry
  • Energy Institute
  • Geological Society of London
  • Institute of Biomedical Science
  • Institute of Food Science and Technology
  • Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology
  • Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine
  • Institute of Physics
  • Institute of Water
  • Institution of Chemical Engineers
  • Physiological Society
  • Royal Society of Chemistry
  • Society for Cardiological Science and Technology
  • Society of Biology