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The Future of Engineering in the UK

The Future of Engineering in the UK

19 Oct 15:00 by Julie McEwan

Julie McEwan's blog on the shortage of Engineers for Engineering jobs in the UK

It has widely been reported that Britain is heading for a shortage of engineers and technically qualified people, with conservative estimates showing that by 2050 we will be in a deficit of 36,800 engineers. When you consider that in 2015 alone this industry sector contributed £486 billion to UK GDP, this could have serious repercussions for the economy.

I wanted to look into the reasons behind this and what is being done to re-address the balance.

Migration is thought to be one of the largest drivers to this shortfall, with the occurrence of skilled professionals leaving the UK to secure more attractive opportunities overseas and the UK increasingly being seen as a less attractive option for work related immigration. In the last ten years migration has increased by 16% and work-related immigration has fallen by 24%. The fallout from Brexit is surely only going to exacerbate the situation.

It also seems that due to an ageing population in this sector the volume of people leaving the industry due to retirement is not being recouped by recruiting new talent – this being the largest area for change and improvement. Interestingly the educational sector is also being hit by shortages within the STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Maths) sector, with teachers of secondary school level in the subjects of Computing, Maths, Chemistry and Physics being added to the shortage occupation list – allowing for easier immigration into the UK for teachers with these skills. Does it then follow that a lack of skilled teachers in these areas is leading not only to a reduction in the talent being produced but also students’ understanding of the breadth and depth of careers available to them within these sectors? The many sub sectors of engineering and the fact that 80% of engineering enterprises within the UK, shockingly have four or fewer employees, further adds to the problem. Do these smaller companies appear on candidates’ radar when looking at career opportunities or do they compete for vacancies at the larger, household name conglomerates which make up the remaining 20%?

Another factor that has been highlighted is the varying degree of hands on experience students gain during their academic studies, with some Universities offering more than others. This then has a knock-on effect – further decreasing the attractive talent pool and salary discrepancies for first time roles becoming evident on the back of this. This is generally due to budget reduction within the University which directly affects the technology acquired and made available to students to practise the application of their academic understanding. This obviously has a direct impact on the relatability of students’ knowledge and how attractive they are to prospective employers.

So, what can be and what is being done?

The problem is being tackled by the Government, from a funding and educational focus but also by the businesses within the engineering sector.

The government has set aside £229 million to fund the industrial strategy to improve the situation and one of the solutions is by the way of ‘technical education’ or Degree Apprenticeships. These will allow those enrolled to study a degree in the engineering sector without having to pay any tuition fees and as a salaried employee they gain excellent commercial exposure and vital skills. Now over a quarter of a million workplaces offer apprenticeships, a figure that has increased by 50% over the last five years. This figure is set to soar thanks to the apprenticeship levy that was introduced in April of this year. This dictates that any company operating in the UK, with an annual pay bill in excess of £3 million, will have to invest in apprenticeships. All nations within the UK will manage their own approach/policy to this, but it is being applied across the board.

Attempts are also being made to encourage and attract students to begin on a path within the STEM subjects, at a much earlier age. STEM learning offers tailored projects for young students that teach and encourage engineering habits of mind (EHoM) such as problem finding and systems thinking alongside curiosity and resilience. Coding and programming skills are also being taught at a primary school level with low cost mini-computer boards being provided by Sony and the BBC to facilitate learning in this area. The most recent platform for promotion in this field came earlier this month when ITN productions announced its collaboration with the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) to produce ‘Engineering the Next Generation’ an online programme focusing on engineering in the UK and the challenges faced and promoting the industry to the younger generation.

More Blogs from Julie McEwan

Julie has written numerous interesting and well researched blogs on a wide range of topics related to Medical Devices and Human Factors.  Please click here to read more of Julie's blogs and here to find out more about Julie.