The latest A-level results have shown there has been a strong uptake in entries to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects and more young women studying these disciplines. 

Exasol, provider of a high performance analytic database for big data insights, analysed UCAS data over the last 5 years, looking in particular at numbers entering STEM degrees and found that:

  • More young people than ever are studying STEM subjects, up by 8.4% in five years
  • Overall entries for A-level Computing have more than doubled in five years, and the number of women studying Computing has increased by 2.75 times
  • The most popular STEM subject, Maths, has increased by 11% in five years and Further Maths by 22% in five years
  • The proportion of women studying STEM subjects has increased slightly from 41.9% to 42.3%

Sector Response

Neil Owen, Director, Robert Half Technology UK:

“For the first time in years, A-level results have shown a strong uptake in STEM subjects, with more women also getting involved in these disciplines.

“While STEM subjects have traditionally had a cultural stigma in the UK, results today show that we are moving in the right direction.

“Yet, even with positive signs of things moving in the right direction, there is still a huge number of STEM-related jobs that remain unfilled, with employees lacking the right skill-set that make them employable. Interestingly, 92% of HR directors in the UK are finding it challenging to find skilled professionals. And this needs to change.

“The growth of digital subjects is not a greenlight to complacency. The war for talent is set to intensify as companies search for candidates that can combine technical aptitude with softer skills, as we shift to a digital future.

“In addition, with the appetite for crypto-currencies, the internet of things and artificial intelligence continuing to rise, so is the demand for people with the right skills to implement it. Skills including, analytics and programming are in huge demand, placing an even further strain on the job market.

“Some of the key benefits of employing graduates are their ability to bring a fresh perspective, new methods of communications and a technically-savvy nature to the working world. Those graduates who are looking to explore a top-tier computer science degree, excellence in mathematics and programming skills will set themselves up for a strong start to their careers. However, technical skills are not the only desired skills. The growth in soft-skills such as effective communications, stakeholder management and commercial awareness should be nurtured within the early years of employment to support long-term career success.

“While this year’s results are positive, we mustn’t become complacent. We need to work together to continue to make these subject areas more attractive, exciting and popular. By facing the widening skills gap head on, we can arm the future workforce with the right tools to strive, whilst at the same time build our economy from the bottom up”.

Tim Loake, General Manager, Dell EMC Services:

“A-Level results day is undoubtedly an nerve-racking and exciting time for students, families and schools alike. But it is also a good indicator on how young people consider certain subjects and start planning for their future careers. It gives us a moment to step back and gauge how well government, business and the industry has done in presenting the opportunities STEM subjects offer to young people. I’m pleased to see that there has been a strong uptake in entries to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects and more young women are studying these disciplines.”

However, the continued debate about gender balance is something we need to maintain focus on, and find ways to make the subject more appealing to girls while still at school. They all Tweet, are on Instagram, use Snapchat and yet they still aren’t pursuing it as a subject. It’s not enough to encourage more women to join the IT industry, nor to support them once they are involved. We must tackle the stereotypes associated with the IT industry from a young age and let girls know that IT and the technology industry is more than sitting in dark rooms coding, but is shaping societies, cultures and people.”

At Dell we partner with schools, supporting graduate scheme programmes and running mentoring programmes with inspirational women within the business. For example, we have an initiative called ‘IT is not for Geeks’, where staff visit schools and speak to students preparing to select their GCSE and A-Level topics. The sessions are designed to encourage students to pick STEM subjects early in their studies and demystify believes about a career in the IT sector.”

I believe that there’s room for industry, government and the education system to do more to promote the exciting opportunities open to all young people within the IT industry.”

Eleanor Bradley, COO of Nominet – the organisation that runs the .UK internet:

“The uptake and increased interest in STEM subjects among young women is music to my ears, particularly given research we commissioned earlier in the year found a clear gender bias between parents’ proposed career choices for boys and girls, with jobs in technology noticeably absent in the top five preferred careers for girls.

“One of our key strengths in the UK is being able to offer young people, whether male or female, the best platform to prosper in their chosen careers – through choice, opportunity and a good education. This means supporting and encouraging young people’s natural affinity with technology from a young age, right though to education and work experience opportunities, so they’re fully informed when choosing their study options and potential careers. Only then will we be able to realise our potential and address the widely-reported shortfall of workers with digital skills in the UK.”

Stephen Line, Regional VP NEMEA, Cloudera comments:

“It is pleasing to see an increase in the uptake of STEM subjects as these provide a fantastic pathway to the careers that will drive and grow our economy. STEM subjects are the bedrock of data focussed and analytical professions. From smart cities to autonomous vehicles, these technologies will only become a reality if they are underpinned by the people with the technical nous. True innovation can only be realised if it has the workforce to support it.

“The industry has discovered that the number of people with the required skills is not increasing in line with the growing demand for data experts. The biggest challenge facing data initiatives is not technology, it’s the skills gap.

“The adoption of advanced analytics and IoT (Internet of Things) are expected to create 182,000 new jobs by 2020. In order to fill these expected vacancies, employers are turning to the next generation of analytically minded talent. More now than ever, there’s demand for people with the skillset to be able to find the needle within the proverbial data haystack. And today’s results are a positive development in the UK’s bid to become a data-driven economy.”

Massimo Merlo, VP of EMEA Enterprise and Regional VP of UK&I at Veeam comments:

“It’s pleasing to see an uptake in the amount of students gaining STEM qualifications. For the UK to sustain its position as a global digital hub, it must have a solid talent pool for future challenges like the fourth industrial revolution. There, many people will be needed for jobs that haven’t even been dreamt up yet, let alone had a course created to support them. Therefore, the fundamentals of STEM courses are a vital foundation to support these future roles. Now we need the UK government to continue to support this movement and ensure a diverse range of students pursue STEM courses not just at levels three, four, and five, but beyond to create higher-skilled STEM students. Innovations such as robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and smart cities won’t become a mainstream reality without the nation’s digital skillset being improved in tandem.

“At Veeam we do look for people beyond STEM education backgrounds, as there are other skills such as problem solving, communications, possessing an inquisitive and analytical mind, creative ideas, which are vital for a career at technology company, but perhaps not as a systems engineer – there a technical brain really can’t be escaped. If you can’t talk the language and possess a deep understanding, you can only get so far with technology engineering itself.

“The opportunity to nurture the next generation of digital warriors starts in the classroom and today’s results, against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, are a step in the right direction for cementing the UK’s standing as a digital leader.”

Matthew Smith, CTO at Software AG comments:

“The digital skills shortage is a systemic problem in the UK, it’s an education problem, and a cultural problem. As this year’s A-level result are released, once again the importance of STEM talent is highlighted.

"Digital skills cannot just be learned at school or University, practical experience is vital. We lack in-work job training such as internship and apprenticeship opportunities. The skills the UK’s technology industry so desperately needs are often difficult to learn and it takes a long time to gain the range of experience that is required. In some ways, it’s bit like becoming a doctor, but rather than working with humans you have to be able to diagnose and fix technology with increasingly complex environments.

"Within the UK there is a perception that a career in technology is only for geeks, or it’s high pressured. If you imagine young people looking at the news stories such as the BA IT failure splashed all over the TV and the blame game that ensued, it’s unsurprising that they don’t feel particularly encouraged towards this kind of career. The press coverage that gets a lot of attention is of high profile IT failures rather than good news. This negative image of careers in technology must be addressed at a cultural level, a governmental level and in education to make technology a more enticing career prospect for young people. It is vital for the future of our economy. We need to make ‘Geek’ cool.”

Sebastian Darrington, UK managing director at Exasol, comments:

“It is encouraging to see that there are more young people studying STEM subjects than ever before, especially practical skills such as Computing, which has seen numbers double in recent years. It is reassuring to see that the number of females going on to study STEM degrees is also increasing and some subjects, such Computing, has seen marked increases in the numbers of women entering – almost tripling in five years. There have been various government-industry initiatives and these are clearly paying off. 

“Inspiring the next generation of female talent to take up STEM careers is critical to plugging the skills gap in science and technology. STEM-related jobs are outpacing all other industries and with Brexit on the horizon, this is set to increase. 

“Here at Exasol, we pride ourselves on providing an inclusive environment for everyone. We focus ensuring that all our staff are of the highest calibre, which ensures our organisation is best positioned for the future. High-performing teams are non-negotiable for an organisation to be successful, and I fundamentally believe that these teams have to be inclusive of all ages, genders and ethnicities. Without that level of diversity, an organisation simply cannot achieve its full potential. 

“There is still plenty more to be done to help improve the gender balance in the tech industry and the fact that so more girls are now studying STEM subjects is promising for the future of our industry. Of course, this is no time to rest on our laurels, but the time to press forward and make sure we keep these young people engaged with the technology industry going forward.”

Mark Lewis, VP, Communications & Connectivity Enterprise Product Solutions at Interoute comments on what he thinks the technology industry can do to encourage more applicants to pursue careers in STEM related jobs/courses in the long-term:

“There is one key thing to take away from this year’s A-level results, a general enthusiasm from the next generation to get involved in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.

“Schools are already doing their bit to encourage STEM subjects and the technology industry is increasingly doing more to sell the idea of STEM subjects to bright 18-year-old on their way to University or a job interview – simply by paying big salaries!

“However; the weight of public perception is still cautious of the “techie”. Set aside that Computer Science has some of the highest graduate pay, not enough STEM graduates see technology and science as offering a career pathway for them. This must be cultural as Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, and Elon Musk - three of the most transformative people in the world - serve as role models for the wide range of careers available, but maybe just a simpler appreciation of technology as the 21st Century change agent and bringer of the next generation of innovation would help?

“As a country, we don’t produce enough STEM grads and we are in the midst of a chronic skills shortage. Partly because we still don’t value the professions and rightly or wrongly, that impacts people’s decisions when they are starting out.

“So, maybe it’s time to think of new creative solutions. For instance, a possible approach might be to offer a time bound reduction in university fees or other incentives to study for STEM students, until the shortage had been addressed. Technology has always been a catalyst for change in how humans live. It exposes creativity, evokes remarkable benefits and is a source of huge societal good when harnessed successfully – surely that is reason enough for new thinking and approaches to make sense?”

Charles Senabulya, VP and Country Manager SAS UKI comments:

“The uptake in STEM grades demonstrates that students are aware of the potential these skills will have in securing a career in our data-driven economy. Today, we must capture this enthusiasm and build a solid foundation for the future in areas of analytics, business intelligence and data management to ensure the UK can compete on the global stage.

“The arrival of artificial intelligence, robotics and smart technologies will help automate previously manual tasks and drive a change in tomorrow’s job roles. British businesses are looking for ways to action insight from captured data now more than ever. Why? To give them a competitive advantage in our digital-first society. And it will be those students with a solid understanding of STEM who will help unlock this edge.

“For students entering the workforce either now or after they have completed their university education, job titles like ‘data strategist’ and ‘data scientist’ will be commonplace. These are real-world opportunities available to today’s students. In fact, our research shows that big data and the internet of things could add £322 billion to the UK economy by 2020, and there is a strong demand for those skilled to work in these fields.

“To get there, we need to make a concerted effort to focus our support on young people in these subjects throughout schools and colleges, and encourage them to broaden their knowledge at university. Only then will we be on the path to creating a data-driven culture that ensures the UK remains at the forefront of innovation in the years to come.”

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