Few sectors have a shortage of skills as acute as the engineering sector. According to the 2016 Skills and Demand in Industry Report, 62 per cent of engineering employers are now saying graduates don’t have the right skills for today’s workplace – so it is more important than ever that we develop the next generation of ‘home grown’ engineering and technology talent.
If the skills gap in UK engineering has taught us anything, it’s that there is no such thing as a quick fix. What is needed is a cultural shift to help shatter dated stereotypes, through investment into and training for school leavers and graduates, and a change in overall approach.
Engineering ranked within the top five in-demand sectors for permanent placements for most of 2015. However, the UKCES Employer Skills survey showed that the science, research, engineering and technology professionals’ category, had the highest ratio of skills shortage vacancies of any of the 25 occupational sub-major groups. The scale of the challenge is clear.
The UK is simply not training enough engineers and technology specialists and work must be done to do more to make university graduates more employable. The future inevitably belongs to the young and their energy and skills are among the most important resources we have. With concerns regarding the educational system, and its struggle to keep up with the skills required for technological change, there has to be an improvement in the supply of engineers and technicians and more employers need to provide better work experience opportunities for those in education or training.
As the engineering manager for a leading recruitment consultancy, I have personally witnessed the decline in skills. With an ageing population, those with skills are starting to retire and with little to no focus on the younger generation, we will suffer. According to www.engineeringuk.com, 48.3 per cent of engineering enterprises said that hard-to-fill vacancies meant delays in new products and services, yet if we meet the demand, engineering companies will have the potential to generate £27 billion per year from 2022. This is the equivalent to the cost of 1800 secondary schools or 110 new hospitals – reason enough to up investment in our youth, I would assume.
Demand for engineers is high and inspiring the next generation to consider engineering as a career is vital. As we will undoubtedly continue to face a shortfall in engineering skills over the next decade and with the uncertainty surrounding the movement of labour following Brexit, it has never been so important to develop the next generation of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematical) talent. According to Engineering UK, STEM professionals earn a higher average salary than in other sectors. These messages need to be taken into the schools and students need to be aware of what an engineering career could hold for them. Employers and educators must also form stronger working relationships with each other, to ensure that the work experience they offer is designed with the skills gap in mind.