Job cuts put skills debate firmly back on the agenda

Editor

The Engineer

Last week’s announcement that BAE is to cut 3,000 jobs couldn’t have come at a worse time, and has reignited the ever-emotive debate on engineering skills. 

The cry from industry that we need more engineers has rarely been louder, and news that one the UK’s biggest engineering firms is cutting back won’t have sent out a very positive message to youngsters weighing up the pros and cons of a career in industry. 

But despite this, as our special Women In Engineering supplement shows, the need for fresh skills remains as pressing as ever.

There is, as the features in our supplement highlight, a major gender imbalance at the heart of industry. Just 8.7 per cent of the UK’s engineering professional are female, and initiatives aimed at  encouraging more women into engineering, though laudable, appear to be failing.

There are many reasons for this, and – from addressing the way employers treat flexible working for parents, to the need for ever-earlier engagement with youngsters – plenty of suggestions on how industry can rise to the challenge.

One point that comes through loud and clear is that this is now about much more than the UK’s engineering employers ticking the right diversity boxes. A continued failure to tap into the technical expertise and enthusiasm of half of its population could have dire consequences for the UK’s engineering sector. As our guest columnist shadow science minister Chi Onwurah argues, failure to exploit the skills of women means that industry’s talent pool is half the size it could be.

It’s an unfortunate fact that the credibility of this argument is undermined every time a major employer announces redundancies. But the skills gap is real. And for this reason, it’s vitally important that industry redoubles its efforts to engage not just with women, but with anyone considering a career in a sector that remains critical to the UK’s economic recovery.