The Manufacturing, Engineering and Technology Alliance (METALL), recently held its latest meeting where, top of the agenda, was the engineering skills gap, a growing problem facing businesses trying to grow despite the scarcity of candidates.
More than 60 attendees from Sussex-based SMEs and the education sector heard from Sir John O’Reilly, Chairman of the ERA Foundation, Maggie Philbin OBE, CEO and co-founder of Teen Tech and Professor Andrew Lloyd, Dean of the College of Life, Health & Physical Sciences & Professor of Biomedical Materials at the University of Brighton.
Both the audience and presenters agreed that the UK has a number of fundamental education issues and that the Government needs to get the conditions right in the UK for the industry to help itself.
Youngsters need more guidance on the opportunities in the sector and the chance to take a closer look at roles in the workplace. There is not enough focus on technology subjects in the SATS tests taken at age 11 and GCSEs keep changing.
The meeting highlighted that next year’s results for instance will not be based on any course work – students will need to memorise information for an exam. This is unlikely to help the situation we already have where the calibre of many graduates, even with 2:1 degrees, is not high enough for the workplace - they are being taught to pass exams and do not understand their subject sufficiently to apply it at work.
Listening to the speakers, it was clear that a number of initiatives are already underway to get teenagers more interested in careers in technology, but initiatives come and go. METALL claim that what industry needs is a long term plan based on a national skills strategy for industry.
Sir John O’Reilly pointed out: “We do not have an issue with STEM subjects in the UK, but it is more of an industrial skills problem, particularly in engineering. New entrants need more awareness of management, production and quality issues and not just the theory behind it.” Professor Andrew Lloyd talked about the new wave of experiential learning that is going some way to meet this challenge.
The question and answer session heard an argument for introducing children from the age of eight to science and technology subjects to help them to consider a career in manufacturing and engineering when they leave school. Maggie Philbin highlighted the work done by TeenTech in this regard.
It was interesting to note that some of the SMEs attending considered factors such as enthusiasm, interest, willingness to learn and attitude as more important than academic qualifications when recruiting.
MHA Carpenter Box Practice Director Chris Coopey, who compered the event hosted jointly by MHA Carpenter Box, solicitor’s asb law and recruitment agency CBSbutler, concluded: “The number of people attending today’s event demonstrated how important an issue this is for the sector. There were some fantastic, thought-provoking ideas from a range of SMEs and an excellent exchange of possible solutions.
“One idea mentioned of which I’m a particular fan is making industrial strategy apolitical. It would be a major step forward to pull it out of party politics and look for solutions based on evidence, not dogma or apathy. Particularly with regard to SMEs, successive governments have promised much but delivered very little when it comes to promoting the manufacturing and engineering sector. With Brexit on the horizon, the time to change that is now.”