The Telegraph has launched its first ever UK STEM Awards, which are designed to recognise and praise some of the country’s top undergraduates studying in the key sectors.

Skilled graduates from science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses are thought to hold the answers to the UK’s future economic success.

There is reportedly a huge skills gap in these important areas as the number of students choosing to study one of these subjects to degree level is low.

What’s more, UK businesses are about to face a crippling shortage in skilled workers as thousands of engineers retire without finding any replacements.

Semta, the skills council for science, engineering and manufacturing technologies, warned that there could be as many as 80,000 workers retiring between now and 2016.

This isn’t the first warning of its kind, as the Confederation of British Industry said earlier in the week that a shortage of skilled graduates could put the UK’s economic recovery under threat.

However, despite the doom and gloom surrounding the STEM sector, there are still some highly skilled students in the country – and the Telegraph aims to find them via its new STEM Awards competition.

In order to win the £25,000 prize, the UK’s current undergraduates must come up with something new and innovative that will have a positive impact on the automotive, pharmaceutical, defence, construction or environment industry.

The Telegraph awards have been welcomed by those in the STEM sector:

“We need to ensure that the next generation is equipped to meet the challenges ahead,” said Ann Watson, chief operating office of Semta. “This nation alas has a poor track record retaining within the sector those who study engineering in higher education, so the skills gap is still widening.”

Peter Rogers, chief executive of Babcock International, said: “The future of our business, our industry, and our country depends heavily on the next generation of scientists, mathematicians and engineers.”

Terry Soame, head of new products and engineering at BAE Systems’ Maritime Services, said: “Any activity which highlights the importance of engineering and the UK’s requirement for more young people to study science, technology, engineering and maths is to be welcomed.”