Business and innovation
To not invest in the development of physics skills now would be to jeopardise economic recovery and growth
12 January 2022
IOP Deputy Chief Executive Rachel Youngman says our new report shows that the UK and Ireland are already falling short in harnessing the power of physics skills.
The last couple of years have been a time of such great strain and upheaval for the UK and Ireland that the word ‘unprecedented’ barely seems adequate. However, as we try to make sense of the new economic, social and technological landscape before us, we must now do what we have always done: move forward, make progress.
Following Brexit, and as the pandemic continues, the UK and Ireland find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Ireland is now looking at a new trading relationship with its oldest partner, and the UK must reinvent itself as a technological economy looking to sign new global trade deals with new partners in new ways. The conclusions from the COP26 climate change conference add another layer of complexity and urgency to the real need to transform our economies.
At the same time, our countries have an opportunity to harness the transformative potential of physics to drive economic growth, improve our health, increase standards of living and lead the way in the transition to a net-zero world and a new green economy.
New research from Emsi Burning Glass, commissioned by the Institute of Physics (IOP) and launched today, Physics in Demand: The labour market for physics skills in the UK and Ireland, and its summary briefing, Unlocking the Potential of Physics Skills in the UK and Ireland, tell us it will be difficult to meet these economic and societal challenges – and to take advantage of the opportunities they present – with the current levels of investment in the development of physics skills.
Physics skills and the industries they support – including major project construction, nuclear energy, transport, manufacturing, medical, engineering, and more – are key to taking advantage of new economic and technological opportunities and to addressing climate change. Yet employers are already struggling to access the physics skills they need, and the demand for physics skills is growing.
The IOP report concludes that “strengthening the provision of physics is essential to the ambitions to improve economic growth, prosperity and living standards” – we need to take this very seriously.
Our countries have an opportunity to harness the transformative potential of physics to drive economic growth and lead the way in the transition to a net-zero world
The IOP is already working to broaden the pool of people who study, train or work in physics, to bring through a new generation of young physicists from different backgrounds, be those of race, religion, class, gender, or sexuality, with our Limit Less campaign. We need to tackle these urgent, generational, nationwide challenges to meet the growing needs of our developing economies and to bring forward and foster the talent that is going to address some of the world’s pressing issues.
We have to invest in specialist physics teachers, we have to ensure there are a variety of different pathways for people to be trained and educated in physics, and we need to make sure all young people are supported to change the world and fulfil their potential by doing physics. But these are medium and long-term goals: we also need to incentivise employers to invest in upskilling or cross-skilling to ensure our workforce is ready now for the challenges we face.
This year, the IOP will be undertaking further work to better understand future technology-driven skills needs and how they can be fulfilled.
To not invest in the development of physics skills now would be to jeopardise the economic recovery and growth plans of the UK and Ireland, and limit physics’ potential to drive the green industrial revolution.
These reports show clearly that we are already falling short and that not only do we need to catch up but we need to expand the pool of people with physics skills to ensure our economies are able to compete in world markets, to embed sustainability in all we do, and raise living standards for our citizens.
To read the reports and for more details see our Workforce Skills Project page.