Welcome to skills week

It’s “skills week” on The Engineer this week, which means that over the next few days we’ll be taking a particularly close look at one of industry’s most pressing and talked about issues: the challenge of ensuring that our engineering and manufacturing businesses have access to the talented people they need both now and in the future.

female design engineer with VR
The skills demands of the engineering sector are changing rapidly. Image: This is Engineering

Industry’s growing demand for engineers is well known and reasonably well publicised. According to research carried out by Engineering UK, there’s now an annual need for 124,000 fresh engineers, but an estimated annual shortfall of 59,000.

Skills shortages and the leaky engineering skills pipeline

Skills shortage means engineering companies must think outside the box

But concerning as they are, the headline numbers only paint part of the picture. Whilst a fresh injection of talent is vital, the rapidly changing technological landscape means that the skills of existing engineers need to evolve and develop perhaps more rapidly than at any time in the past.

This requires action on many fronts. Of course, all organisations, be they educational institutions or manufacturing businesses, have a responsibility to ensure that the next generation is inspired to consider a career in the sector.

But businesses must also address the here and now, and in the age of data science, employers are also increasingly finding themselves in competition with other sectors for the brightest and best minds in fields that haven’t traditionally been a priority. Finding ways of attracting these talented individuals has become a key priority for industry.

Against a rapidly evolving technological backdrop, employers must also ensure that their existing workers are equipped to make the most of the technological tools at their disposal, and to operate in the kind of cross-disciplinary, un-siloed environment demanded by the modern word of engineering.

Yet another aspect of the skills debate, and one which we’ll be looking at later this week, is the way in which many traditional engineering and manufacturing roles are being replaced by automation. We’ll be asking what the rise of AI and automation might mean for the future of engineering skills and whether – in the post-Brexit landscape – automation might offer a solution to some of the sector’s concerns over restricted access to workers from the EU.

This is just one of many areas that we’ll be exploring over the course of this week, where we’ll be examining some of the factors that are driving the skills challenges and spotlighting some of the skills initiatives that are helping to drive genuine change in the sector.

Our partner for this week’s activities is electronic component supplier RS Components, a company which, thanks to its many customers spanning a wide range of sectors, is well placed to comment on such a broad issue.