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The UK needs a gold medal performance when it comes to skills development

Over the last two years, there has been a renewed focus on engineering and manufacturing as the UK looks to reduce its reliance on the financial services sector.

It's a welcome development, but something which is still in its early days. However, there appear to be some structural issues which may slow the return of these sectors to more dominant positions. And one of those issues is the perennial question of skills.

If the engineering sector is to grow in the way which many hope, it will need more people with relevant skills. But a recent survey by the IET suggests progress is being held back by a lingering skills gap.

In a telephone survey of 400 employers, the IET found that more than one third of respondents said the skill levels of their new recruits did not meet 'reasonable expectations'. And the main reason given is a lack of practical experience; 31% of organisations said their graduate recruits didn't get enough hands on experience during their courses. Meanwhile, the number of companies offering 'on the job' training has dropped by 25% since last year.

What's to be done? One solution offered in the past was for employers to engage more closely with the education system – in that way, the thinking went, employers should get people with the skills they need. But the IET survey found 25% of respondents who did take this approach saw no benefit in engaging with the education and skills system.

Meanwhile, more than 40% of respondents think skills shortages will pertain for the next four to five years.

What will it take to break this seeming impasse? The UK Electronic Skills Foundation is doing its bit, but perhaps a similar level of enthusiasm and commitment needs to be applied to the future of engineering in the UK as has been applied to creating a successful Olympic games.

Graham Pitcher

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