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Nurturing STEM education can take British firms into the future, says IBM’s UK chief exec

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Technology has been the source of great innovation for decades, and it continues to change all aspects of our everyday lives: from health and transport; through cyber security and food production; to the world of arts; the laboratories of scientists and even the academic classrooms of students and teachers.

The added importance and central position of technology in our daily lives is perhaps not surprisingly filtering down into education. The August school exam results demonstrated the significant increase in the number of students taking STEM A-levels, seeing an increase of more than 38,000 since 2010.

Similarly, university computer sciences applications are up a staggering 13 per cent to 97,110 – the greatest percentage increase among the other top ten most studied subjects.

This is good news for British businesses. As more students gain strong A-level and post-graduate results in STEM subjects, there is a greater opportunity to bring scientific, statistical and data analytics skills into businesses in the future. Allowing us to build today’s workforce with a view towards the business demands of the future.

But it’s not just the typical academic paths that are seeing growth in terms of tech take up – so too is the apprenticeship route. With escalating costs of higher education and a general wider acceptance that traditional means of academia are not always the best fit, the groundswell (around work in general, but technology in particular), is building here too.

The UK is the most digital nation in the world, with the tech industry contributing over £59bn to the economy and 12.4 per cent of our GDP being attributed to technology and digital business – the highest of any of the G20 countries.

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However, whilst here in the UK we are relatively strong, such a demand for digital transformation within all industries has naturally created an unprecedented requirement for skills, such as coding, developing, computer and data scientists and everything else digital.

With the tech workforce predicted to grow by nearly 40 per cent by 2030, and nearly 750,000 additional workers required by 2017 alone, the challenge is clear to see for all.

There is excellent work being done in education and training to meet this demand, and its continuation and expansion will be key to maintaining the competitiveness of the UK digital sector and the economy as a whole.

It’s therefore important that we as a nation, as well as individual businesses, look to build on the momentum, and acknowledge that alternative paths to traditional university education are available.

For some of the most creative and innovative young minds the traditional paths of education aren’t always the most attractive, or best fit. It’s important that students are aware of the full range of opportunities available to once they leave school.

It’s equally important that employers understand this if they are to fully benefit from the depth of the undoubted talent pool out there.

By 2030, millennials will account for 75 per cent of the UK workforce, and the education and training that they receive will be crucial to preserving our position as a leading digital nation.

As the composition of the UK’s workforce evolves, so must our perceptions about how we arrive at the end goal – a capable, creative (crucially), digitally intuitive workforce.

By acknowledging and supporting successful apprentice schemes we will ensure that the UK can tap the full depths of its talent pool, and remain at the world’s top table in terms of digital and technology skills.

David Stokes is the chief executive of IBM UK and Ireland

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