UK must do more to attract engineering talent

2 min read

Engineering remains a key sector of the UK economy employing 5.6million people, that’s around 19 percent of the total workforce, and it turns over in excess of £1.2trillion a year, according to a new report from EngineeringUK.

Published during the ‘Year of Engineering’, which intends to highlight and tackle the skills gaps in UK engineering and to widen the pool of young people considering engineering as a career, the report makes for interesting reading.

While it suggests that the future of the sector is being put at risk because of an ongoing shortage of people with engineering skills, which in turn is compounded further by a lack of awareness amongst young people about engineering as a potential career path, it does say that perceptions and attitudes towards engineering are changing amongst young people.

According to EngineeringUK’s ’ Engineering Brand Monitoring Survey’, more youngsters between the age of 11-19 are considering engineering as a career – 51 percent last year, up from 40 percent in 2013.

Interestingly, among 11-14 year olds over 59 percent said that they would consider a career in engineering but that drops to 39 percent by the time they reach the age of 19

So why the fall-off?

The report suggests that it could be because older students have a clearer idea about their careers, but it also raises the possibility that schools are failing to sustain young peoples’ interest.

The survey also found that students were ill-informed about careers in engineering and have poorly formulated views of what work in the sector actually involves.

Peter Finegold, Head of Education Policy at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, makes the point that while significant progress in promoting technical careers is being seen and more young people are considering a career in engineering, he warns that there remains at the heart of our education system a striking, ”ambivalence about vocational routes into careers, alongside a worrying lack of understanding about what engineering is or what engineers do.”

I’m not knocking the teaching profession but we’re failing to provide enough good teachers which, according to Finegold, are more important than good courses.

He makes the point that schools should be thought of as part of industry’s supply chain, as much as any producer of components

I certainly agree with his point that teachers need to be supported, respected and valued especially when we are seeing the loss of a growing number of STEM teachers in England.

All around us we are witnessing new technologies with all sorts of opportunities for the next generation of engineers, we need to attract and retain the brightest and best talent in the UK engineering sector if we are to take advantage of this.

The challenges haven’t changed neither have the solutions; streamlining STEM teaching, understanding what works, addressing the decline in and loss of STEM teachers, ensuring that apprenticeships are understood and made available, improving diversity in the workforce and raising understanding and the perception of the industry

The optimist in me says this is all good and achievable; the pessimist, it’s not new or ‘rocket science’ yet we’re still confronted with the same problems and issues that have beset the industry since I started reporting on it ten years ago.