Engineers needed to make sure UK stays ahead of competitors

20th July 2016
Posted By : Anna Flockett
Engineers needed to make sure UK stays ahead of competitors

Engineers are now top of the list of sought after graduates with more than 1,000 jobs available for engineering graduates in the UK, the employment website found. According to a new study by CV-Library, more than ever before, business owners are relying on foreign graduates to fill these gaps.

This is often a win-win situation as many graduates see the UK as a place with many excellent career opportunities and UK employers can take advantage of the talents they cannot find in the UK. Many European graduates see the UK as an ideal location to kick start their careers with benefits such as flexible career paths, a vibrant technological and entrepreneurial sector as well as fiscal incentives.

As a country we excel in hi-tech industries but we need engineers to make sure the UK stays ahead of our competitors: the rest of the world isn’t standing still, so we must do everything we can to uphold our position as a leading engineering nation. Engineering UK’s annual report finds that engineering businesses have the potential to contribute an extra £27bn to the UK economy every year from 2022 if we can meet the demand for a quarter of a million new vacancies in the same time-frame.

A strong British engineering sector is vital to the long term sustainability of our economic recovery, and increasing the supply of engineers is at the heart of this. With immigration being such a fraught political issue in the UK, it would be unwise to rely solely on immigrants to fill these important roles.

To address this issue, Nick Boles, former Minister of State for Skills suggests that anyone with an interest in engineering must all play a part as he commented the shortages are compounded by insufficient numbers of young people, especially girls choosing a career in engineering. He added: “I am convinced we will only overcome these challenges if all those with an interest in UK engineering commit to greater collaboration and partnership.”

In higher education, it has been encouraging to see entrant numbers to all AS level Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects rising by a third over the past ten years and by 5% between 2013 and 2014 alone. A-level mathematics and physics entrants have also increased significantly in the past decade. These subjects are the first step to a career in engineering, so their increasing popularity is a positive sign. STEM subjects open doors, provide options and are vital to the modern age.

Women, working class and some minority ethnic groups remain under-represented in some disciplines and occupations, particularly in engineering. This not only means a pool of potential talent is being lost, but that those industries are missing out on the many benefits of a more diverse workforce.

Studies show that these groups tend to have limited exposure to the world of STEM, which those with high levels of exposure generally gaining this through family members’ qualifications, occupations and interests. The greater the level of exposure to STEM, the more likely a student is to study STEM subjects post-16 years of age. If businesses can help engage these young people, it will increase the likelihood of young people from all backgrounds engaging with STEM.

With a year-on-year increase from 12-19% of firms reporting difficulties in finding suitable graduate recruits, it is clear a skills gap still exists, so those in industry must play their part to make sure the engineers of tomorrow are inspired to pursue a career in engineering. 

Most companies offering work experience places and apprenticeship schemes but this may not be enough according to Jess Penny, General Manager, Penny Hydraulics as she comments that apprenticeships and work experience placements typically start from the age of 14 years, and children need to be engaged at a younger age, at primary school level.

Manufacturers can assist by liaising with schools to organise class trips to their premises or sending engineers to talk to children to provide real industry role models to give young people insights into STEM-related jobs. There are also a number of national programmes and events that companies can participate in such as Tomorrow’s Engineers, STEMNET and STEM Learning.

The real answer may lie in STEM-promoting initiatives between schools and businesses according to Jess. STEM-promoting initiatives attempt to address some key issues such as the current perception of STEM subjects and careers, with both students and educators.  

She commented STEM teachers need to feel confident in giving careers advice in manufacturing and engineering. This is a key area where manufacturers must work more closely with educators. “Where STEM teachers may not feel confident giving careers advice in this area, engineers and manufacturers have the opportunity to fill the gap, giving pupils a deeper understanding of what is involved in STEM careers, and what steps they need to take if they want to pursue them.”

Businesses co-delivering activities such as careers workshops alongside teaching staff can help develop the knowledge of staff and students. Teacher placement schemes in business, business-led workshops or open days for teachers can also help teaching staff better understand the STEM careers landscape and advise students appropriately.

By supporting teachers, some of whom–particularly at primary level, may not be science specialists, business can help them have the confidence to teach STEM-related topics in creative and inspiring ways, and to promote STEM as a career path to their students.

Involvement in female specific campaigns such as National Women in Engineering Day organised by the Women's Engineering Society (WES) and Women in Science, Technology and Engineering (WISE), inspires girls and women to study and build careers in STEM and offer organisations advice on how to create environments where those women can do their best work and thrive. WISE state one of their core aims as ‘driving economic growth by working with employers to boost the talent pool from classroom to boardroom’.

This is desperately needed as according to Engineering UK, the UK has Lowest Number of Female Engineers in Whole of Europe. Peter Jackson, Chief Executive of Engineering UK supports this as he stated: “We need a step rather than incremental change in the number of women entering the engineering profession in the UK if we are to meet the future global technological challenges that lie ahead.”

Connecting business and education by the use of local economic partnerships between schools and employers using recently retired executives as enterprise advisers to bridge the gap between employers and schools is an idea from the Secretary of State for Education. Enterprise advisers would have knowledge of local business but also the time to help out, since they would be retired rather than engaging in day-to-day business activities themselves.

Schools would be free to find their own advisers meaning they could find an appropriate fit for their school. The existing STEM Ambassadors programme enables anyone of any age working in a STEM-related job to engage with schools to encourage and promote STEM industries. Ambassadors not only work with young people to increase engagement with STEM subjects, but also help teachers by explaining current applications of STEM in industry.

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