Engineering skills shortage hits the headlines again

The engineering skills shortage is an issue that comes up again and again, but what is being done to attract the next generation of engineers?

It’s an issue that is affecting engineering around the world. A lack of new engineers means that the experience and skills that veteran engineers have earned over the years will disappear as they reach retirement age. As such, the sector will begin to shrink, taking away the potential for further skill sharing and innovation.

The Engineering the Future group (made up of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Institution of Engineering and Technology and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers) has released a new report that details this, along with reasons why the sector is struggling, and it seems to be an issue of perception. With results coming in saying that manufacturing is unsecure and badly paid, it’s not surprising that young people are turning away from the world of engineering.

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"There are a lot of misconceptions about manufacturing among young people: that it is badly paid, has high redundancy rates and is dirty, physically demanding work," said Engineering the Future. "The lack of career advice and the national curriculum losing modules in design and technology at secondary level will have a negative impact on future manufacturing.” It also comments on a growing trend that engineering graduates are only "taught to pass exams”, instead of picking up the practical skills that spark interest and ingenuity, as well as making them employable and relevant to "real world applications".

Large numbers of staff are gearing up to leave the industry as they enter retirement, with an average of 30 or more years’ experience behind them.

Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has been quoted as saying that the skills shortages are “a massively serious problem” that could disrupt the economic recovery unless steps were taken to right the problem. With stats like four of every five manufacturers experiencing recruitment problems, and two thirds of those saying it’s due to candidates lacking technical skills, it’s easy to see why the Engineering the Future group is so keen for educational reform. Prepping engineering graduates for work, as opposed to exams, could put them in a position to hit the ground running and put rest to the idea that engineering is poorly paid.

In the meantime, plans for growth and expansion could be slowed, if not halted, without the engineers to lend their skill. Many organisations are getting involved and pitching ideas, such as the CBI, the UK’s largest business lobby, pushing for reduced university fees on some science, tech, engineering and maths courses, and the government pushing to get more women into engineering, and increasing the number of apprenticeships.

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