A new study has highlighted the need for staff teaching science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) disciplines to receive more time for training and continuous professional development (CPD) opportunities.
The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) report has highlighted the fact that the quality of post-16 courses in crucial STEM subjects is being undermined by a lack of time for staff to develop their skills and knowledge in line with the pace of change in their subject area.
Staff from colleges and employment and learning providers were questioned by the NFER on behalf of the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) to identify the key challenges involved in improving access to STEM courses in the further education and skills sector.
It was suggested by respondents that recent funding cuts and the associated reduction in staff time made it difficult for them to participate in CPD to improve and update their skills. Moreover, the CPD they are able to access tends to be overly process-oriented, with access to STEM-specific training relatively limited.
Other key issues included the need for staff to be empowered to share learning, effective practice and resources, the difficulties in recruiting new workers and the lack of awareness of STEM courses and careers among young people.
Sheila Kearney, head of research at the ETF, said more needs to be done to address the key challenges faced by the sector, including "improving opportunities for staff to develop their expertise and to share learning, effective practice and resources; tackling the lack of high quality STEM-related CPD; supporting staff in keeping their knowledge and skills up-to-date in a fast-paced, constantly changing industry; and engaging more effectively with employers".
E-learning tools, such as the CPD-certified courses offered by Virtual College, could be one way of plugging this skills gap - a crucial priority at a time when demand for STEM-proficient workers is growing among UK businesses.