Graduate Skills Gap in Physics 2020

The physics graduate “skills gap” – what it is and how to address it

Sean Ryan & Veronica Benson, South East Physics Network, spring 2020
pdf (424 kB): (SkillsGap2020)

Physics graduates are highly employable, and a lower fraction take up non-graduate roles than the national average, but there is a perception that they do not possess the range of technical and ‘employability’ skills that industry requires. In this report, we examine the gap in physics graduates’ range of industry-valued skills, and what universities and industry can do to address it.

Summary and recommendations

With technological change and the demand for new graduate skills accelerating, the physics skills gap will be a continually evolving feature of the physics graduate workplace.
Universities and business need to work together, in ways that have been shown to be effective, to reduce the impact of the skills gap on physicists’ futures and on industry.
There is an onus on academics and the IOP to ensure that physics departments increasingly embed both specialist and transferable skills that graduates and employers have identified, that they increase students’ awareness of these skills and their career options, and that sector requirements are updated continually.
There is an onus on employers and industry to provide the structured placement opportunities wherein students can develop the industry-relevant skills that employers expect graduates to possess.
Coupled with the need for a greater number of placement opportunities to satisfy the high number of physics students pursuing industry-relevant work experience, there is a need for more geographically-diverse and sector-diverse placements, for example provided by SMEs. SMEs are an important contributor to the UK’s economic powerhouse, but historically they have been less likely to offer paid placements. The SEPnet 8-week summer placement scheme involves much smaller financial outlays and time commitments than the traditional full-year placement model, so is well suited to industrial newcomers as well as to students who do not wish to prolong their degrees. Physics students cannot graduate with the full suite of industry-ready skills without the full suite of UK industry providing industry-relevant workplace experiences.
There is also a role for supervisors, research tutors, heads of department, research councils and other funders of research to encourage PhD students to identify and take up placement opportunities to develop industry-relevant knowledge and skills during their studies.