Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Why Physics is Essential to the Economy

Last year I had the great pleasure to take part in a consultation led by the IOP about how physics can assist not only the short-term economic recovery, but also the long term economic growth. In short, their research looks at why physics remains essential to the economy, and how institutional and business actors can contribute to upskilling the current and the next generation workforce.

The Report’s Key Findings

  1. Physics skills support nearly two million jobs and underpin productive industries in every part of the UK and Ireland
  2. Demand for physics spans all skills levels
  3. Significant unmet demand for physics skills exists
  4. There is a strong, sustained growth in demand for physics skills – particularly outside of the scientific sector
  5. Action to bolster development of physics skills among the current and future workforce is needed now

You can read the full report here.

My Take: Start Yesterday, Think of SMEs, Be Inclusive

There is so much to say about it all, so allow me to give my two-pence here.

Physics is part of our everyday life. It is everywhere, hidden in plain sight, and full of opportunities if only we give our workforce and our youth the means to seize them.

  • The needs of SMEs are very different from those of large companies. That is the main reason why I was very happy to have been invited and give an SME’s point of view. Many large British or international companies run their own training programmes or fund further education on the job. SMEs can rarely afford that, even if they often go the extra mile for their employees. However, SMEs represent the bulk of the country’s businesses. They are also an integral part of the ecosystem of the large ones. Any solution addressing the future MUST take SMEs into account.
  • Upskilling the workforce is urgent! R&D is not a short-term fix, it’s a long term mindset. A big envelope advertised by a rushed politician will not “fix” anything. We are talking about careers, set to be longer than ever. We are talking about energy transition, about a world that changes so fast that we don’t know what technical challenges will show up tomorrow. We need to start yesterday.
  • Every time I hear awe when I mention being a physicist. Only by taking the mystique out of physics will we allow workers to build the best careers possible… and therefore allow businesses to remain competitive. Physics skills should be part of the common toolbox of the population. Science is not a complicated endeavour. It asks simple questions: How does “stuff” works? Why does it work that way? How could we make it better?
  • The lack of well-trained, versatile physics teachers impacts education quality, gender equality and opportunity equality. It is crucial to improve the attractiveness of this specific career path. Relying on people’s motivation to teach physics is not enough. They need the proper (modern!) tools to do so well. Not just in the nice private schools, not just at university level. Everywhere, from the start.

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