Log in to personalise your experience and connect with IOP.

IOP report: invest in physics skills now to support economic recovery and growth

12 January 2022

New research suggests that without concerted action the UK and Ireland will be unable to take advantage of economic and technological developments.

An Institute of Physics (IOP)-commissioned report today reveals that as we enter a new economic era post-Covid and post-Brexit, recovery and growth in the UK and Ireland economies will be severely limited without greater investment in the development of physics skills.

The report reveals that physics skills already support nearly 2m jobs across the UK and Ireland, and employer demand is strong and growing, yet the IOP says that without concerted action the existing shortfall in physics skills is only set to worsen and will limit the extent to which the economies can take advantage of new economic and technological developments.

It will also limit the role these countries can play in the transition to a net-zero world and new green economies.

The report concludes that because of its crucial role in driving innovation, “strengthening the provision of physics is central to the ambitions to improve economic growth, prosperity and living standards”.

The IOP is calling for action: 

  • Addressing shortages of specialist physics teachers;
  • Challenging misconceptions about physics and the jobs it provides access to;
  • Ensuring availability of a variety of physics education and training pathways;
  • Incentivising employers to invest in employees’ upskilling and reskilling; and
  • Ensuring interventions aimed at strengthening provision of physics skills move beyond the level of ‘STEM skills’, given the distinct labour market demand for physics.

For the research the IOP commissioned labour market analytics firm Emsi Burning Glass to evaluate the jobs market in the context of physics skills focusing on: the scale of the physics-related job market; how the use of physics skills varies across occupations, industries and regions; and levels of employer demand for physics skills at all levels.

Tony McBride, IOP Director of Policy and Public Affairs, said: “Physics skills are central to the new industrial landscape and offer routes to productive employment, and varied and rewarding careers for people in every part of the UK and Ireland.

“This report shows clearly that we need more young people to fulfil their potential by doing physics, no matter their background or where they live, we need to level up education by making sure everyone has access to a specialist physics teacher, and we need to skill up more physics-based workers.

“We already know that a shortage of skills has put a brake on the innovation and research and development (R&D) activities of physics-based businesses. Without investment in the teaching and development of physics skills, the workforce will not keep pace with the demands of transformative new technologies, jeopardising economic recovery and growth and stalling plans to make the UK and Ireland scientific and industrial superpowers.

“We must take every opportunity to put our economies on a strong footing to compete on the world stage.”

A female engineer sitting at a desk working on a project

Duncan Brown, VP Global Innovation, Emsi Burning Glass, added: “Our report demonstrates that physics has a wide variety of applications in the workplace, moving well beyond its explicit role as a scientific discipline into many established and new applications. In addition, we show how physics-trained workers have a variety of transferable skills that give them a wide range of opportunities throughout the labour market.

“The insights and analysis we provide demonstrate clearly that employer demand for physics skills is substantial and growing, yet it also shows that positions are hard to fill – particularly in finding the right mix between physics skills and the range of transferable skills which can bring out their value in the workplace.

“This means there are important education and training challenges ahead, if we are to see this demand for physics-related skills being met, which is a crucial part of the nation’s future economic growth.”

To download the report and the IOP summary report, see the Workforce Skills Project homepage.