Taking a look at the Labour Market Survey by the Engineering and Marine Training Authority (Emta) just before its conference on skills shortages this week was a sobering experience.
In its excellent commentary and conclusions, the report runs through the gloomy reality of engineering in Britain. It talks of the decades working to overcome the low-level image, which it says is endemic and goes back to our earliest perceptions. It documents the low level of employment of women in all engineering fields. It reminds us of the parents made redundant from engineering jobs in the 1980s who have inculcated their children with a jaundiced view of the profession. It blames local financial management of schools and the incorporation of colleges for an unhealthy level of competition for young people who are worth a lot of money to the institution in question: children are urged to continue formal education instead of opting for work-based education and training. And young people who do stay on longer at school still do not come away with adequate levels of maths, let alone some of the ‘softer’ basic skills like oral and written communications.
Emta argues for a framework of national and regional priorities for skills training within which local agencies, such as Tecs, can frame their local policies. The Regional Development Agencies, when set up in the spring, will take on this strategic role.
Let us hope that helps. But what this highlights is that skills shortages in engineering are not, with some exceptions, among chartered engineers. Someone asked us last week: ‘Do we really need more engineers? If there were really a skills shortage, you could be certain that pay levels in engineering would be a good deal higher than they are right now.’
He was probably right. But by joining forces to get more people into engineering where required, thereby removing damaging production bottlenecks, everyone in the profession will gain.