Be inspired

As readers of The Engineer will recall, the annual Engineering UK 2009/10 report alerted many people to the urgent need to replenish the engineering workforce over the next decade in order to rebalance the UK economy and ensure we remain at the top of our economic game.

The report found that, in order for the economy to recover fully, the manufacturing sector will need to recruit 587,000 engineering and manufacturing workers with state-of-the-art skills by 2017. In addition, the transport sector will require an additional 366,000 workers and the construction industry will need 389,000 in the same timeframe.

Hard though it is for those in need of work now to look to future opportunities, we must do so to ensure the conditions are right to grasp them when they arise.

Sir Anthony Cleaver, Chairman, Engineering UK

Understandably, the debate about future skills gaps met with consternation from engineers, who have seen the job market dry up in recent times. The downturn has had a big effect on manufacturing, construction and other sectors in the past few months, with the engineering and industrial sector experiencing a short-term fall of 40.5 per cent in graduate vacancies. However, as Engineering UK 2009/10 outlined, the medium- to long-term projections for engineers remain strong, particularly in areas such as energy, utilities and transport.

Hard though it is for those in need of work now to look to future opportunities, we must do so to ensure the conditions are right to grasp them when they arise. We must work together to plan for the predicted growth in areas such as nuclear, renewables and plastic electronics in order to help generate the right skills and jobs to meet these demands.

As a society, we are expecting a lot from the next generation, from solving the energy crisis to providing for a burgeoning global population. In the UK, we are expecting this generation to put the wind back in the economy’s sails and ensure that we have the skills and expertise to compete in a global economy.

Engineering UK 2009/10 revealed several obstacles to recruiting the requisite number of engineers to make this happen. For a start, population trends mean there is a rapidly diminishing talent pool and there will be 16 per cent fewer school leavers by 2019. Add to this the 30 per cent fall in further education lecturers in engineering and manufacturing since 2002, and you can see why action is needed to address future skills requirements.

“Our report revealed a 19 per cent increase in the public’s overall opinion of engineering”

On the up side, our report did reveal a 19 per cent increase in the public’s overall opinion of engineering. Worryingly, however, it also revealed that, due to a lack of familiarity with engineering, 7-16 year olds have a less positive opinion than those over 16. If we are to maintain an adequate future supply of suitably skilled engineering professionals, this is something the government, business and industry must address urgently.

One initiative that seeks to achieve this is the Big Bang: UK Young Scientists’ & Engineers’ Fair. (11-13 March, Manchester Central). As well as headline live shows, such as TV’s Bang Goes the Theory and Brainiac and the finals of the National Science & Engineering Competition, the fair hosts interactive exhibits designed to inspire young people about the prospect of working in engineering. Siemens, for example, will display a 4D ultrasound system for students to use on a model baby, a wind turbine model and an electric-powered sports car, the eRuf Greenster.

As my generation hands on the baton, I would like to see the country well prepared for a dramatic increase in big engineering projects. This means nurturing the next generation of talent and encouraging those who have yet to consider a career in engineering to do so. If we can do this, a bright future awaits.

BIOGRAPHY

Sir Anthony Cleaver

Chairman

Engineering UK

Education

  • 1962 Graduated from Trinity College Oxford with degree in Classics

Career

  • 1962 Joined IBM, worked in marketing, product management and production scheduling
  • 1983 General manager of IBM
  • 1986 Chief executive of IBM
  • 1993 Chairman of United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA)
  • 1996 Led the privatisation and flotation of UKAEA’s commercial activities, becoming chairman of AEA Technology
  • 2004 Founding chairman of Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
  • 2007 Appointed chairman of Engineering Technology Board (now Engineering UK)