Guest blog: anticipating a year of action on industry's skills gap

In this month’s The Engineer, Dr Hilary Leevers, Chief Executive of EngineeringUK, shares opportunities for working together in 2023 to inspire the next generation of engineers.

Happy new year!

2022 was a busy year for EngineeringUK – we hosted our first ever Tomorrow’s Engineers Live conference, we celebrated a decade of inspiring young people through Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, and we excited students with the return of The Big Bang Fair, in person for the first time since 2019!

Now it’s time to turn our attention to the year ahead, so here’s an overview of some of the areas we’ll be focusing on in 2023.

Making strides with diversity

We know that the engineering sector still has a long way to go when it comes to achieving a diverse workforce. Right at the end of last year, we published a series of research briefings, which looked at the perceptions, understanding and knowledge of STEM and engineering among young people, their parents and secondary school teachers. I was concerned, although not surprised, that our findings highlight the extent to which demographic characteristics, such as gender and socio-economic background, have a significant impact on perceptions and knowledge of engineering careers. This mirrors the diversity gap seen in the workforce and in particular the low number of women in engineering roles, even though we have seen an increase since 2010.

If those from underrepresented groups are struggling to picture themselves as engineers or are unaware of what STEM careers involve, then we, as a sector, need to do more to make sure we’re reaching and inspiring young people from all walks of life and backgrounds.

Reaching schools that meet our equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) criteria remains a top priority across our outreach programmes. We’ll also be drawing together more insights and advice on how to work more inclusively with young people from different backgrounds to improve our own practice and share our learnings with others.

Supporting the engineering community

We will continue our efforts to support collaboration across the hundreds of organisations that engage young people with engineering, tech and technician careers.

To drive up our collective impact and change the ways young people perceive engineering, we first need to understand where there is room to work together, how we can target and deliver inspiring outreach to underrepresented groups, and where we have more work to do. If your company is looking for ways to inspire the next generation, please do consider joining The Tomorrow’s Engineers Code and join over 200 organisations working together to form a community of practice, sharing and learning from each other, to deliver inspiring engineering and tech outreach.

I’m delighted that we’ll be hosting our second Tomorrow’s Engineers Live event in March this year. This free conference is all about bringing organisations together to network, discuss challenges and share their practice.

Promoting vocational routes

The skills shortage is an ongoing problem the sector faces, and if we are to fix this then we need to attract young talent into the workforce through a variety of different educational pathways, including both vocational and academic routes.

At the end of last year, we carried out an analysis on the latest new apprenticeships data, released by the Department for Education. Although engineering-related apprenticeship starts are on the rise and have increased at a greater rate than all other sector subject areas, they are still down by 5.5% since 2018/19 and by 12.3% since 2016/17. The reality is, that we need significant and sustained growth in the number of engineering and technology apprenticeship starts, and completions, to meet workforce needs. So this month we’re launching an inquiry calling for evidence and ideas around growing engineering and technology apprenticeships.

We will also be building on work last year around raising awareness of T levels among employers and young people – with the aim of increasing uptake of this promising new vocational route.

Inspiring young people into engineering

With the UK challenged to meet net zero by 2050, we must continue to inspire tomorrow’s engineers – they will play a critical role in shaping the future for everyone.

To get the next generation inspired by the breadth and depth of future careers, we’ll continue to develop our Neon website which hosts a range of experiences and careers resources to help teachers bring STEM to life in the classroom. If you work for an employer who delivers engineering and tech outreach then we’d love to hear from you so we can promote your experience on Neon. Alternatively, if you’d like to share your own career story, then we’d love for you to become one of our case studies!

We’ll also be inspiring young people to get excited about STEM careers at the annual Big Bang Fair. Here young people can see engineering in action, get hands-on with interactives, and, importantly, talk first hand to engineer and technician role models. Please reach out if your organisation would like to get involved.

All of these plans depend on working with others and we hope that you’ll join with us in 2023 to make a difference to young people’s futures.

Dr Hilary Leevers, CEO, Engineering UK