Saturday, 26 July 2014
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Job cuts put skills debate firmly back on the agenda

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.


Readers' comments (8)

  • Job insecurity, low wages and low prospects are the main reason that young people do not consider Engineering in this country.

    75% of graduates graduating from Warwick University appeared to be Chinese students from where I was sitting during the graduation ceremony.

    That tells me where the destiny of British Engineering lies. Manufacturing in this country is being destroyed by our own new breed of Chief Executives and Foreign Ownership of what were once true World Class British Companies.

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  • The larger the worker or talent pool, the lower you can go with the salary offer.

    Whatever skills and education you have, you get paid most when you are an inept banker or politician.

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  • Good Engineers get wages comparable with many other professions, but less than some; to say they are low in general is to perpetuate a lie and talk down our profession. We are short of Engineers partly because the majority of "Engineering" granduates are unemployable due to the gross failure of our education systems.

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  • My Company has been established for 51 years & in my 33 years of hard work in mechanical/ precision engineering I have never seen so many opportunities for SMEs. Wages are rising & more youngsters are thinking of engineering as a long term career. Job losses happen, but it doesn't mean we are all doomed. Yes, there are fewer British owned companies, but UK is seen as a great place for long term manufacturing projects by many discerning foreign owned companies, many of which are investing significantly in the UK. We must build on our strengths & push forwards. So please everyone, stop bleating & get on with it!

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  • Why would anyone consider going near engineering?
    I was working at B.Ae. Brough the week prior to the job loss announcement and the workforce were congratulated on their performance, efficiency and rewarded with a pay rise and bonus for their efforts. The following Tuesday the axe fell! B.Ae. have moaned continuously for years about the 'skills shortage' and then reward their existing, highly skilled workforce with redundancy. Why would anyone consider working for such an organisation or industry?

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  • "a major gender imbalance at the heart of industry" One of the more invidious outcomes of drives for equality is the belief perpetrated here that equality must by definition mean that 50% of the workforce is female. What utter nonsense. It means that there is equality of opportunity and that males and females are treated equally throughout their chosen career whether its engineering or hair dressing. That more women are not interested in engineering careers is worth investigating but I would be as equally interested in the comparative costs of attracting, training and retaining male versus female engineers.

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  • Changing tack slightly, I feel in this day and age far to much emphasis is put on engineers having degrees. There are a lot of skilled people out there without the degree that are more capable than the people with the paper work. Years of experience count for more in my view.

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  • I currently work as a Buyer but have often thought that I would like to retrain in Engineering, however, I am a woman who is 42 years of age and think that this is probably a big stumbling block. Are there opportunities to retrain and get jobs in Engineering at my age or should I forget it? Any chance of an apprenticeship? Probably not.

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