UK manufacturers look to UK government to close engineering skills gap

The UK manufacturing industry is calling on government to step up and do more to encourage young people to consider engineering as a career and, thereby, help to close the skills gap. This is according to a new poll of over 600 industry professionals commissioned by Subcon in association with The Engineer.

The survey revealed that:

  • 67 per cent of UK manufacturers are worried about the future availability of skilled staff for their business
  • 72 per cent don’t believe Government is doing enough to promote skills training
  • 83 per cent believe there are not enough young people working in UK manufacturing and engineering
  • 88 per cent claim engineering is a good career choice for young people
  • 90 per cent claim the industry would benefit from more young people working within it
  • Just 54 per cent currently train apprentices
  • 40 per cent don’t know whether The Apprenticeship Levy (introduced on 6 April 2017) is a good thing

In response to the estimate that the UK needs an additional 1.8 million engineers by 2020*, government has introduced The Apprenticeship Levy, and announced £170 million worth of investment in technology institutes as part of its industrial strategy and the introduction of T-Levels. Despite this, nearly three quarters of manufacturing professionals believe government could do more, specifically with regards education.

When asked what industry and the Government can do to encourage more young people to consider manufacturing as a career, the top five answers polled were:

  • Increase and improve education at school level
  • Invest in apprenticeship training
  • Promote potential career progression 
and opportunities
  • Increase pay at all levels
  • Improve the image of the industry

Sid Shaikh, engineering R&D manager, Ocado: “The engineering skills gap is the biggest challenge facing the UK manufacturing industry right now. If government is to encourage more young people to work in the industry, we should introduce engineering qualifications earlier in the education process, create targeted promotion and incentives for women and young people to take the Engineering GCSE, and create a culture that is more welcoming to new starters that are keen to learn.”

Alan Pendry, associate professor of advanced systems engineering in the School of Engineering and the Built Environment at Birmingham City University: “Apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships are an excellent opportunity for UK companies to grow the essential skills needed by our growing manufacturing industry and to take us into the fourth industrial revolution. If I were in government and wanted to encourage more young people and women into engineering, I would get rid of ‘career politicians’ and replace the cabinet with engineers: 50 per cent male and 50 per cent female, educate school teachers as to what engineering and manufacturing in the 21st century is and promote positive action without the perceived fear of discrimination in the appointment of women to engineering posts.”

Jon Excell, editor, The Engineer: “The skills shortage is a major issue. The government is doing a bit to help and the investment in technology institutes, and introduction of T-Levels and The Apprenticeship Levy are all welcome developments that will give a lot of people opportunities they haven’t had before, as well as broaden the pool that industry can draw on. But there is a slight caveat – and it’s a concern a lot of people have raised – which is that in the rush to meet the target of three million apprentices, we don’t lose sight of the fact that we need high-quality apprenticeships for the high value industries that will help drive the economy.

“Of course, there is always more the government can do, but it’s not just down to government, industry has an important role to play, too. It needs to get more engaged with education and the school system to inspire the next generation of engineers.”

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