Engineers receive warning over declining youth apprenticeships

Senior reporter

Despite efforts to attract more young people into the sector, the latest EngineeringUK report shows firms are training more over-25s as advanced apprenticeships flatline

With the increased government focus on manufacturing, the repeated warnings of an engineering skills shortage, and the tripling of university tuition fees at a time of relatively high graduate unemployment, you’d have thought that the number of apprentices would be shooting up.

But the latest EngineeringUK report – the annual assessment of the state of the engineering nation – today highlighted that the number of under-19s taking advanced level engineering apprentices is actually falling, by 8.1 per cent this year and 12.2 per cent last year.

Continuing growth in the number of over-25s taking up training means overall numbers are almost flat compared to last year, (rising just 1.3 per cent) but the bigger picture is one of declining youth apprenticeships.

As a result, EngineeringUK is calling for a concerted effort to double the number of under-19 engineering advanced level apprentices, as well as the number of engineering graduates and pupils studying physics at GCSE level.

It’s puzzling news to say the least, and sufficiently worrying to industry that skills minister Matthew Hancock this morning held a meeting at No 11 Downing Street with representatives of BAE Systems, BT Technology, National Grid, Rolls-Royce and Shell UK to discuss the issue.

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Task force: the UK’s top engineering firms met skills minister Matthew Hancock in Downing Street this morning to discuss the looming skills shortage.

But it also raises serious questions about the steps engineering firms are taking to ensure their pipeline of future talent, the quality of engineering education and the current efforts to attract young people into the industry.

It’s been well recognised for years that the difficulties companies face in recruiting staff with the right skills and experience are only going to get worse as the many older engineers who make up a large proportion of the workforce retire. This is only likely to be exacerbated if numbers of new engineers are not increased.

EngineeringUK’s chief executive, Paul Jackson, claimed the growth in over-25 apprentices showed UK engineering businesses were taking action to ensure current employees had sufficient training.

‘However, as these findings show, it is vital we focus on attracting new talent into the industry,’ he said in a statement. ‘As the UK economy’s engine for growth, it is crucial that engineering gains sustained support for education, training and careers inspiration.’

The EngineeringUK 2014 report is a hefty 240-page document and we’ll be digesting it over the coming week to discover what else it reveals about the health of British engineering.

In the meantime, we’d like to hear how the headline figures chime with your experiences. Are companies training up existing employees rather than taking on young blood? How concerned are employers about a future skills shortage? Is there dissatisfaction with the quality of young people attempting to enter the profession? Or are bosses too worried about their bottom line to take on the task of making their businesses sustainable?