EngineeringUK Chief Executive Dr Hilary Leevers reflects on the past year and what research has told us.

Adboe Stock

As 2022 draws to a close, we take stock of this year’s achievements and reflect on the opportunities and challenges ahead. Looking through our research this year, here are my top five learnings…

  1. Diversity is improving, but there’s still a long way to go

While positive strides have been made towards improving the diversity of the engineering and technology workforce, many groups remain underrepresented.

The diversity of the engineering and technology workforce has grown, with women now making up 16.5% of the workforce, but this is still woefully short of their 48% overall workforce presence. Comparable figures for other groups fall less short, but are still under where they should be, including: 24% vs 26% for people from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds, 11% vs 15% for disabled people, and 11% and 13% for people from minority ethnic groups. It’s clear that we must strengthen our actions to attract young people from underrepresented groups into the sector.

  1. Employers can help shape young people’s perceptions of engineering

Building awareness and fostering a positive perception of engineering, technology and technician roles among young people plays a crucial role in attracting talent and targeted employer outreach activities do make a difference. For instance, young people who attended a careers event with an employer in the past 12 months were much more likely to have an interest in an engineering career than those who hadn’t (71% compared to 48%; EngineeringUK’s Engineering Brand Monitor).

However, the scale of engagement needed means this isn’t something that employers can tackle single handedly. We’ll need to work together and take a holistic approach to increasing awareness and interest in engineering and technician careers.

  1. Clear career guidance is key

Young people need an accurate understanding of the breadth of engineering and technology careers to assess whether these opportunities are right for them. Our research found that 55% of young people said they know about the types of things engineers do in their jobs, with a more positive 64% saying the same of technology (similar to knowledge of scientists). However, just 2 in 5 young people said they know what subjects or qualifications they would need to take next to become an engineer.

From university degrees through to vocational routes – we need to support young people to explore all options available to them, so they can make informed choices. Back in 2021, we argued that an additional £40 million per year is needed to improve careers provision in English schools and colleges.

  1. We all need to get behind vocational routes if we are to tackle workforce shortages

The number of students starting apprenticeships in engineering and manufacturing technologies has almost halved since 2016/17 and next year we’ll be working to understand more about how we can reverse this decline.

At the same time, new T Levels have got off to a promising start. This post-16 qualification is the equivalent of 3 A Levels but provides a more vocational route – including a 45 day work placement – from which students can progress to university, apprenticeships or employment. All the digital, design, technology, engineering and manufacturing T Levels have now launched, but awareness among employers and young people needs to improve.

Our joint research with Make UK highlights that less than a third (28%) of engineering and manufacturing employer survey respondents say they understand what T Levels involve. It is vital that we motivate and support employers to offer industry placements, with about 40,000 needed in our sectors by 2024/25. As well as building the talent pool in general, T Levels can also build relationships that might help with later recruitment. Indeed, we’re already hearing about students who stayed on in work or apprenticeships with their T Level hosts.

  1. Skilling up for net zero remains a top priority

We know that ‘green jobs’ will be vital for improving environmental sustainability and achieving net zero and our review of skills forecasts looked across the hundreds of thousands of jobs that need to be filled. However, little consideration has been given to the increased uptake of STEM subjects needed in schools to ensure that we have the future workforce required. We need to work with government to grow our understanding of future skills needs, feed this understanding into careers information, and be ready to shape the education system to ensure that we meet these essential workforce needs.

Opportunities ahead

Clearly, there is much work to do. We at EngineeringUK look forward to continuing to work with you all to support the high-impact research, outreach, careers information and advocacy that will help us build our future workforce.

EngineeringUK’s comprehensive research library is available at www.engineeringuk.com/research

Dr Hilary Leevers is the CEO of Engineering UK