A serious shortage of engineers has been felt in the UK for the past couple of years. Recently, a government-commissioned review chaired by Professor John Perkins, Chief Scientific Adviser to Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) brought to light a serious gap in capability skillsets in this area of work.
Some specific areas of the industry have evident shortages and as the economy changes, there will be greater demand for professionals to work in this field. Currently, the UK is heavily dependent on migration for engineering skills; about a fifth of the workforce in the resources, electronic, computer and optical engineering industries are imported from other countries.
Where do we stand at the moment?
Even though the migration of skills is an option that’s working at the moment, it cannot be adopted as a long term solution. The government is trying its best to encourage youngsters to take up engineering as a career. At present, the UK produces 90,000 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students per year, which also includes international students. To keep up with the growing demand in the technology sector, the industry needs 830,000 new science, engineering and technology (SET) professionals and 450,000 SET technicians between now and 2020. Purely from a statistics point of view, it’s clear how wide the gap really is in this sector.
Sir John Parker, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering commented: “we need an increase in number of STEM graduates over the next 10 years.” An early intervention from the government will help in improving the current situation. The sooner the future educational needs are defined, the quicker a plan can be devised to rebalance the economy.
It has also been highlighted that females are seriously under-represented in this field. The ratio of women in engineering compared to their male counterparts is 1:10. The UK has the lowest proportion of women engineers in the EU. To bring a change to these figures, perceptions will have to be changed. There are many gender stereotypes associated with engineering. Professor Perkins believes that giving career advice to school students and encouraging female students to take up maths and science in their A-levels can help dissipate some of these mistaken points of views.
Bold efforts are being made to encourage the supply of engineering skills. From January this year, a budget of £30 million was assigned to promote training schemes to address specific engineering skills shortages. So far, more than £4 billion has been committed in dedicated fields of the industry including skills, technology and finance.
Professor Perkins, Adviser to BIS also said in his statement that youngsters in the UK should be supported while competing for highly-paid skilled engineering jobs; it will be a step forward in improving their career prospects and thereby reducing the need to hire engineers from outside the UK.
Looking towards the future
Manufacturing and telecommunications industries are expected to grow rapidly in this decade; a major emphasis is being laid on developing skills and a professional workforce to cope with this demand. The imminent expansion in this sector brings good tidings for engineers; they can expect career progressions and well-paid salaries along with opportunities of international exposure. The UK is paving the way for the next generation of engineers and the future is looking bright.
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