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Report reveals scale of UK's engineering skills shortage

A new report has laid out the scale of the UK’s engineering skills shortage and called for government industrial strategy to focus on training.

The study, commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering, found that British industry will need 100,000 new graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects every year until 2020 just to maintain current employment numbers.

However, the UK currently produces only 90,000 STEM graduates a year — including international students who cannot presently obtain work visas — and a quarter of engineering students choose jobs in other sectors.

In total, industry will need 830,000 new science, engineering and technology (SET) professionals and 450,000 SET technicians between now and 2020.

The study, Jobs and growth: the importance of engineering skills to the economy, found the skills demand came from people leaving the industry and expansion in areas such as nuclear new-build and premium vehicle manufacture, helping to create a wage premium of 15 per cent for engineers compared with the average UK employee.

The report also argued that a government industrial strategy focusing on skills in areas such as manufacturing and telecommunications would help rebalance the economy and create and jobs and growth.

Academy president Sir John Parker said in a statement: ‘We need an increase in the number of STEM graduates over the next 10 years in support of rebalancing the UK economy.

‘I am delighted to see that the government is taking on board the message that a proper industrial strategy is essential for effective and sustained economic recovery. 

‘Only with such a framework and vision in place can we create the pull that defines our future educational and skills needs. We must encourage employers to work with universities with the aim of producing more engineers.’

Despite the government’s recent public discussions about rebalancing the economy towards manufacturing, the report pointed to predictions that this would not take place in the medium term and argued that an industrial strategy, with government actively supporting productive sectors of the economy, was looking increasingly important.

This chimes with the coalition’s recent announcement of a government business bank and talk about the need to get behind successful sectors such as aerospace and automotive manufacturing — a break from previous governments, which have shied away from discussing, if not formulating, an industrial policy.

The report also re-emphasised the need for the industry to encourage more women and people from lower socio-economic backgrounds into the sector.

Readers' comments (16)

  • A 15% wage premium over the 'average UK employee'.... is that really the reward for years of graft and study, anxiety over exams and the genuine hard work that achieving a qualification in STEM subjects takes? ....... And is this in line with the premium that graduates can earn in the finance sector, that wonderfully performing sector of the economy that takes rewards out all proportion to the wealth - I beg your pardon - financial black hole it creates? It's no wonder the country has exactly the result it sought - an ever diminishing number of engineers, scientists, technicians etc

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  • We're being softened up for another Fast Track Visa scam. There are far too many highly-skilled experienced CEng and IEng engineers, who are jobless.

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  • I'll repeat what I've said here a few times now. Make all Science related university education free and charge the full rate for all 'art' related courses. Charges for other courses e.g Languages could be split according to how useful any particular language or course is to the economy.

    We must focus on 'value-add' people. It is now largely accepted we cannot survive as a 'Service' economy and must actually produce goods for sale. For this we need soundly educated scientific types (which to me includes engineers) to provide the value-add element.

    To me as a ' value-add I consider an accountant for example to be a 'cost-add' so numbers should be kept to an operating minimum.

    Visit far east production plants and ask to see their accounts department and it will probably be one or two people, even for large manufacturers. Compare this with the burgeoning number of 'bean-counters' that are deemed neccessary here. Who employs these bean-counters?..... No prize for the best guess...

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  • The wages in the Engineering sector are just incredibly low. I have got a PhD (it took me 8 years in the university (BSc and MSc from different country) to get this degree). Hospital doctors does not study that long (they study 7 years, GP are doing only 4 years of education) and yet, GP's starting salary is twice as much as mine. And I am doing well for the person without experience.

    The same can be said about financial sector where I fully agree with the previous comment. What do you mean 15% over "average UK employee"? Average UK employee include a lot of people on the minimum wage, who can work straight after getting their GCSEs. So, wages in Engineering sector is 15% higher than minimum wage? Great! Just brilliant.

    Some company offers £20k-£22k as a starting salary for highly qualified positions (R&D). It is just a joke... You barely can pay a rent and all the bills from such an income if you are the only working adult in the family. You can't even think about having children as you can not afford it.

    And remembering that UK education system can't produce enough specialists for the market, the government decided to kill the industry altogether by closing the way for international specialists to come and work here.

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  • Take a look at our latest comment piece for some thoughts on the topic of salaries:

  • I am from the U.S. and I find the salaries offered here for engineering graduates to be "at least" 30-40% lower than back home. And add in the much higher cost of living, the higher taxes etc., it just is not an attractive proposition. No wonder a lot of the colleagues in my company's UK subsidiary want to emigrate from the UK.

    p.s: And why is there no distinction between those with an engineering degree and those without? Everybody from a boiler repairman (a technician) to a formally qualified professional are all called engineers.

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  • Here here Mark P. At last a viewpoint from our American colleagues and finally someone who has SEEN what the UK Engineering fraternity has been yelling for years!!! You are correct in what you say Mark P, engineering salaries, If you can get a job here (I'm looking for work as a contractor currently!!), and then high living costs, couple that with no distinction between a boiler repair man and a Degree qualified Engineer (as I am!), and you have one Great British MESS!!! Trouble is, there is no one in government to stand up for us true engineers! We Need someone, and quickly!
    As for your comment re Engineers going abroad, Yes, I will be considering that as well now. I've had enough!!

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  • My HND in Electronic Engineering from 1989, and 24 years of experience thereafter, counts for nothing in the eyes of those blinkered employers who are only looking for degree types, who don't know one end of a soldering iron from the other.

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  • When industry complains of a shortage they mean they only have 10 applicants per job rather than 50.

    Well sod them! They will pay any engineer anywhere else in Europe and the US 50% more than in the UK. Ive had enough - I am moving to finance

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  • I learned early in my career that management was the only career progression for an engineer. That being the case, why study engineering at all? Why not do an MBA and come in way above the engineers? The saddest thing in the world is an ambitious engineer who wants to stay in engineering!

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  • @ Karen Orton

    The saddest thing in the world is not the engineer with passion for a job well done and the perfection of his skills.
    The saddest thing is those who go studying an MBA and become boss over these people, thinking that they are smarter.
    They only have choosen money over knowledge, ratted out ambition and skills for for dough.

    Please define career:
    Why is it always a office in the corner, why not the pride of having participated in the creation of something new.

    I salute the ambitious engineer who wants to fully understand his job and be GOOD at it.
    He should be paid more than the career hunters.
    A suit with no knowledge/experience in it is just a wardrobe that takes sunlight away form those who deserve it.

    It is the corporations who make the stupid rulings about careers. Most of these are run regrettably by MBA's with no technical knowledge. Education is important, experience is the summit. You can't lead what you can't understand.

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