Many of the world's biggest and innovative civil, biomedical and electrical engineering companies are based within the UK. But there is currently an engineering skills shortage within the market place. Industry experts say we may need to fill more than one million engineering jobs between now and 2022. The UK’s once booming engineering sector could run into problems if the shortfall is not addressed. In this article I take a look at some of the problems and potential solutions that may help us stay strong in our vibrant sector of engineering!
The facts as they stand now
Despite the doom and gloom that swirls around with issues like these, the UK engineering sector is still thriving. The industry employs more than 5.5 million people and the contribution from computer to civil engineering brings in a whopping £455.6 billion to our UK economy. Yes, engineering is one of the country's most successful industries and we need to keep it this way. But for this to happen we need to fill a forecasted 182,000 positions on the run up to 2022.
Shortage of Skilled Engineers Within the UK
The shortage of skilled engineers within the UK is widely acknowledged as a serious hurdle to its economic growth plans for the future. The situation is made more intriguing by the UK's decision to leave the EU. Whereas up until recently, skilled and educated workers from the continent would happily step into the breach with realistic prospects of living in the UK, it may now be seen that the UK is no longer quite as attractive for skilled foreign nationals as it once was. But will this really be the case? We still do not know the terms of the exit as it stands and we may find this really does not affect the situation as much as some people thought.
Is it this gloomy?
A rather gloomy outlook is put forward in a study by the the Institution of Mechanical Engineers who say that the government's efforts to encourage industry will likely fail because Britain's education system simply isn't able to turn out enough people with the right skills. And the UK Commission for Employment and Skills states that up to 43 percent of science, technology, engineering and maths jobs, or STEM jobs, are well nigh impossible to fill. So what is being done to fill the shortage of skilled engineers within the UK?
The tide has been partially turned by the growing popularity of apprenticeship schemes. According to The Tech Partnership the number of apprenticeships within the digital tech sector rose by 21 percent over the last year. According to the organisation every £1 invested by employers through apprenticeships at levels 2 and 3 sees a return of £27. We have seen the government put a lot of emphasis on ‘The Apprenticeship Levy’ as mentioned on our article ‘What are the big issues for Human Resources Departments within the UK in 2016?’. The levy is being introduced in order to fund three million new apprenticeships in England by 2020. So we can see by this statement of intent that this may be one of the beacons we need to improve the situation.
A long way to go
The Apprenticeship Levy is perhaps encouraging news, but there is still a long way to go until the shortage of skilled engineers within the UK is filled. A telephone survey carried out in 2016 revealed that 62 percent of 400 engineering employers felt that British graduates were simply not equipped with the requisite skills, also 68 percent felt that the British education system will struggle to cope in keeping up with the ever evolving engineering industry. Education needs to be addressed, we need to make engineering look exciting for kids as fundamentally this is where it all starts!
Mixed feelings on Brexit
Of those interviewed, only 5 percent felt Brexit would have a positive impact on recruitment, while 35 percent felt there would be a negative impact over the next 4 or 5 years. Another 23 percent predicted it would have no impact at all, while 36 percent were uncertain. This really shows you nobody really knows how this will effect the industry. We all need to shout at the government to make sure the engineering voice is heard so that they can implement the best possible solution armed with the correct statistics, facts and strategy.
According to Naomi Climer, president of the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET), "As we are facing an engineering shortfall in the next decade and some uncertainty around skills following Brexit, it is more important than ever that we develop the next generation of 'home grown' engineering and technology talent." In efforts to fill this widening gap the IET have put forward plans to encourage companies and employers to provide work experience to give aspiring students a taste of the industry. Climer also stated there must be an increasing collaboration between employers and educators to facilitate and encourage a much needed growth of homegrown talent in the sector.
The Brighter Side
Some have tried to look on the bright side and see an opportunity in the UK's shortfall in engineers in the UK. The chief executive of EngineeringUK, Paul Jackson said, "Engineering is a growth industry that has the potential to continue to drive productivity in the UK. This is a great opportunity, tempered only by concern about the need to train many more engineers if we are not to be left behind by countries like South Korea and Germany." If the shortfall can be addressed by implementing programs such as apprenticeships, it could be a turning point for the better.
As well as the country exiting the EU, another potential hurdle to overcome is the longstanding stereotyping that comes with the engineering sector. The minister of state for skills Nick Boles is concerned that the industry's still being commonly viewed as the sole preserve of males and this may be holding further growth back, but backing up Climer's comments, he feels these challenges can be overcome with greater collaboration and partnership between educators and employers. I feel sure with the right incentives for kids of all backgrounds and gender this could really help towards the short fall.
The Round up!
According to EngineeringUK's 2016 “The State of Engineering” there is still some way to go before the 69,000 extra engineers needed to fill the shortfall is achieved. It remains to be seen whether the various strategies that have been proposed will have a positive impact on the UK's very real present shortfall in qualified engineers. At least people have realised this and the discussion has started about how we can bridge the gap. As a recruiter within the industry I feel it will be a mix of things that will work. One of those issues that will be facing companies will be the sponsorship of foreign students. A lot of companies dismiss this as an option but I feel it will be a necessity to look at going forward. For my next blog post I will be discussing this in greater detail and investigating the real world benefits of introducing this approach within your company.
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