What’s behind Scotland’s STEM skills gap? Enginuity investigates in new research




Enginuity News , Insights , Enginuity Update


The key to Scotland’s economic transformation

Global trends, technological advancements, and a strong commitment to sustainable development are guiding a significant economic transformation in Scotland. The key industries involved are renewable energy, oil and gas, and advanced engineering, which not only represent a substantial slice of the Scottish economy, but embody the country’s strategic shift towards innovation, sustainability, and economic diversification.

But to realise Scotland’s economic ambitions, there will need to be a sustainable supply of skilled engineering and manufacturing workers to undertake major projects related to energy transition, industrial and domestic heating, decarbonisation of transport, and ship building. To address this challenge, we’ve released the first in a three-part research series – STEM Skills in Scotland: An Enginuity Report – examining the impact of falling birth rates and shrinking numbers of school leavers on Scotland’s capacity to build and sustain the workforce it needs for the future.

The impact of Scotland’s declining birth rates

Part one of our research highlights an ongoing decline in Scotland’s birth rate that is set to continue beyond 2030. The country’s 45,063 births in 2023 represented a 4.03% fall from the previous year, and a 20.55% decrease in the ten years since 2014.

Previous reports have highlighted this trend, but our research links it directly to a similar decline in the number of post-16 learners leaving school and entering higher education, further education, or the workforce. We predict that this will continue in line with the ongoing decline in birth rates.

Further analysis shows that the proportion of post-16 learners in Scotland choosing STEM options in further or higher education, apprenticeships, or direct access to work is gradually increasing. However, because the overall number of school leavers is falling, the absolute number of young people pursuing STEM-based subjects is in decline. This is despite the Scottish Government’s STEM strategy and significant investment in STEM-based activities across the school curriculum.

Problems of supply and demand in Scotland’s STEM education

We further broke down the research to examine STEM-based career choices among school leavers, and found that some STEM categories are enjoying significant growth, while others are in decline.

There was a preference between 2014 and 2021 for subjects related to computer science (64.22% increase) and veterinary science (120.65% increase), while engineering showed an increase of just 11.99%, and physical and biological sciences saw 13.13% and 37.56% decreases respectively.

We also found that the number of STEM-based programmes available to leavers through higher and further education has declined by 23.94% as demand has fallen for certain subject areas. The falling numbers of STEM-based programmes and options for post-16 learners may be due to the choices school leavers are making and linked to growth figures for engineering, biological sciences, and physical sciences.

If this is the case, there’s reason to believe that the number of school leavers choosing careers requiring foundations in physical sciences like engineering will continue to stagnate or decline. Sustaining the workforce needed to realise Scotland’s major economic transformation projects therefore pose a significant challenge in the future.

Next steps

As this first phase of research makes clear, action must be taken if Scotland is going to attract and maintain the workforce needed to achieve its ambitions for economic transformation. Phase two will examine this issue from the demand side, exploring worker requirements from Scotland’s engineering and manufacturing sector, while phase three will analyse both the supply and demand sides together.

From this initial report, it’s clear that revitalising interest and investment in STEM education will be essential to helping Scotland close its skills gaps and realise its ambitions for sustained growth and long-term economic sustainability.

Download the full report