The Government does not know what skills British businesses need or how Brexit will affect the flow of suitably trained migrants, MPs have warned.
Schemes to boost teacher numbers are also poorly monitored, efforts to get more women into science are failing and schools are not effectively showing pupils that they can thrive in technology and engineering jobs.
Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills are considered crucial for the economy’s future.
But MPs fear the Departments for Education and for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy do not understand what needs to be done to ensure the UK has the workers it needs.
As industries change rapidly “skills development often lags behind”, the Public Accounts Committee warned.
“BEIS and DfE do not currently have sufficient understanding of what specific skills businesses really need or how Brexit will affect the already difficult task of ensuring the supply of STEM skills in the workforce,” the MPs said.
“There is no universal definition of what should be counted as a STEM subject or job, which makes it difficult for government to clearly understand what STEM skills are needed.”
The committee, chaired by Meg Hillier, said the departments should study a report from the Migration Advisory Committee due in September, and “within six months, set out the further steps they will take to ensure that STEM skills shortages are addressed”.
The new skills advisory panels being established to assess the need for skilled workers in each region risk missing the national and global picture which is particularly crucial when it comes to the labour market.
Government STEM boards also lack “enough practical industry or commercial experience to spot key problems and deliver effective solutions”, the PAC said.
Efforts to better train and direct young Britons into STEM jobs are also struggling.
Bursaries and other incentives are given to teacher trainees to address shortages in STEM and other subjects – but it is not known if they are staying in the job afterwards.
MPs asked the Department for Education to look into this in 2016. It did, but “it still does not know how long the successful applicants stay in the teaching profession”.
At the same time school and college career advice is failing to challenge perceptions that STEM subjects are “too challenging”, which MPs said must be changed.
“As part of its plans to improve the quality of careers advice, DfE should work with Ofsted to consider rating the quality of advice provided in schools,” the report said.
This is a particular concern among girls and women. While 50pc of apprenticeships overall go to women, only 8pc of those in STEM jobs are taken by female workers.
“By the end of 2018, the departments should establish, and start to monitor progress against, specific targets relating to the involvement of girls and women in key STEM learning programmes such as apprenticeships,” the report said.