By Dr Robin Hoyle

SCOTLAND has fought hard for its place as a science superpower. Our long-standing reputation for innovation, enterprise and delivering internationally recognised research is not up for debate – the fact that around 10 per cent of the UK’s researchers are based in Scotland, producing 12% of its research, speaks for itself. However, to retain our position at the top table and allow science and engineering businesses operating in the sector to take advantage of growth opportunities, swift action to plug the skills gap is needed now.

Everyone is aware of the "big picture" challenges – we are facing a climate emergency and our transition to a low-carbon economy has some way to go. However, reasons to heavily invest in the science skills gap are wider than pressing global issues. Rather than purely reacting, we must look ahead and explore how we can continue to take advantage of exciting advances in areas such as robotics, artificial intelligence, quantum technology and biotechnology, where Scotland is already a leading light.

We have an opportunity to truly transform the Scottish economy, stimulate growth and deliver tangible social benefit, but only if we have the knowledge and manpower. A Scottish Government report published prior to the pandemic found there was a growing skills shortage among STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) employers in Scotland, with the percentage of vacancies sitting at 7.7% of the total workforce. It is undoubtedly higher now.

In a world with problems to solve and where opportunities matter, we must establish and develop relationships that can drive change.

This is where organisations such as Glasgow Science Centre play a pivotal role. We represent a major asset for Scotland and take pride in inspiring people to think differently, to challenge and debate. Unsurprisingly, a significant part of our work is focused on STEM engagement, driven by the belief that if we can provide the chance to learn about and participate in STEM outside a traditional classroom environment, we can energise, enthuse and ultimately broaden Scotland’s talent pool. This can be seen through our STEM Futures programme which connects young people with employers like IBM and Morrison Construction and supports them as they develop employability skills.

Since we opened in 2001, we have joined up enterprise and industry to inspire the workforce. Our programmes with companies such as GSK, Boeing and OPITO is key to this ambition, and we are working with them to help develop a pipeline to attract the best and brightest people. Crucially, we have recognised the opportunity to initiate partnership between Scotland’s other science centres, harnessing our combined reach. For example, our OPITO project has the potential to grow through our work with Aberdeen Science Centre and the Science Skills Academy.

There are so many opportunities for academia, industry and the public sector to come together. There will always be issues fighting for our attention, but by working together, we can protect and nurture our STEM pipeline.

Dr Robin Hoyle is Director of Science at the Glasgow Science Centre