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Why is Engineering Suffering a Skills Shortage?

Recently, the ONS reported that between February and April of this year, there were almost 32 million people in work. This is a record high, just shy of 75% – the highest since records began back in 1971.

Using both current and previous ONS data, EngineeringUK was able to determine the number of engineers working within the sector. The research showed that the engineering sector employed more than 5.7 million individuals, which equates to 19% of the UK’s total workforce, and in 2015, contributed £486 billion to the UK’s GDP.

This is all positive propaganda for the engineering industry and puts its contribution to the economy into perspective. However, EngineeringUK also uncovered the sobering fact that by 2025, the sector will need an extra 1.8 million engineers and people with technical qualifications.

It has also been reported that there is currently a 20,000-annual shortfall of engineering graduates entering the sector. Further to this, a study by the Royal Academy of Engineering showed that less than half of all engineering graduates go on to work in professional engineering roles.

When you consider the higher starting wage offered to engineering graduates (around £27,000), it seems bizarre that they are not embracing this, when the average starting salary for graduates sits at £22,000 on average.

There is much debate about what is causing the skills shortage within the engineering sector.

One side of the argument is that the lack of talent in the sector is down to a misunderstanding and little awareness of what engineering is, from a young age.

Last year, a study by the IET surveyed more than 1,000 children aged between 9-12 years old and their parents. The responses indicated that many children are interested in activities that are related to, and used within engineering.

Activties such as technology and gadgets (62%), drawing and designing (56%) and building and making things (51%), but along with their parents, are uninformed about the scope and variety of careers in the engineering sector, and the skills, tasks, and duties that are included.

This skewed perception continues as children grow up and begin to make decisions that will shape their future careers. As they enter an age at which they become aware of possible career pathways, there is little done to advise and guide them about the entry routes to the various fields of engineering.

The fact that the sector is diversified across so many areas makes it a complex sector to discuss for those who have had little first-hand experience or knowledge. If students and those that supported them, knew more about the arena of engineering, they would be more inclined to seek work experience in the field, explore the entry routes and strive to develop the professional characters and skills that would be required of them.

The key take-away here is that more emphasis is needed on educating students and young people in the field of engineering and the diverse range of roles within it.

 

The other side of the argument is that it is the responsibility of engineering firms to proactively improve the perception of the industry. As the industry is largely made up of SME’s, that lack the resources and the budgets to create impactful campaigns that are going to have a mass reach. To put it further into perspective, 80% of engineering firms in the UK have four or fewer employees.

Other ideas that have been put forward for businesses to pre-empt the consideration of engineering as a viable career choice is to work with schools and educational institutions with mentoring and work experience programmes. It is thought that this approach would go a long way to improving the understanding of the engineering industry, the variety of roles that reside within it, and ultimately drive up the number of people that go on to enter the sector through various pathways.

The recent report by EngineeringUK has found that four out of five manufacturing firms are planning to recruit engineering and manufacturing apprentices in the next year, and this is projected to increase productivity. There is also much talk of the industry moving towards embracing degree apprenticeships.

It appears that there is work to be done when it comes to attracting more women to the sector, as currently only one in eight individuals working in an engineering role are women.

To plug the skills gap that the sector is currently experiencing, it is thought that a multi-faceted approach is required. Firstly, the industry must work to alter the perception of others by creating a strategy that reinforces its contributions to the UK and increases awareness.

It must also work alongside educational institutions to enable students to make informed decisions and consider a career in engineering. This will also naturally improve the diversity in the sector, and encourage more women to embrace the roles within.

As well as encourage more entry into the industry, firms within it must work to increase the supply of skills through their current workforce, to evolve the skill set and knowledge, improve employee retention. This, in turn, improves the employer brand and attracts individuals from other sectors – all working towards reducing the shortage that we are currently witnessing.

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