Mind the skills gap

A new study has revealed that industry and academia must work closer together to produce graduates with the skills needed by UK engineering companies.


A study from the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) and HenleyManagementCollege has revealed that industry and academia must work closer together to produce graduates with the skills needed by UK engineering companies.



The RAE surveyed over 400 engineering companies to help shape the format of engineering courses to ensure better alignment between education and the need and practices of engineers.



The study, entitled ‘Educating Engineers for the 21st Century: the Industry View’, starts by examining undergraduate and graduate courses, but also identifies the need for more encouragement for school pupils to take maths and physics.



David Birchall of HenleyManagementCollege said “The study revealed great shortages of engineers, particularly in the future. The problem is twofold; there are less students taking engineering courses and there is a concern amongst employers about the practical understanding of graduates.”



Birchall went on to say that with increasing student numbers being educated with less money, courses tend to focus more on theory and less on practical engineering. This causes problems in an industry where the technology changes so rapidly.



“The industry recognises that there is an onus on them to attract more young people into engineering and give them more experience, especially through sandwich courses,” he said.



The report reveals that while the UK’s top graduates are on a par with the rest of Europe, the skills gap shows up among other graduates.



Part of the problem, according to Birchall, is where UK engineering is focussed. Whereas large international companies can afford to address more expansive markets or exploit high tech solutions, a large proportion of UK based engineering companies are SMEs. Small companies cannot invest in sponsoring students or training graduates to their needs.



Another problem is that only half of all engineering graduates pursue engineering as a career.



“The industry needs to show graduates what exciting careers there are in the field and what interesting challenges they will face,” said Birchall.



In summarising the report, Birchall said, “It paints a picture of an increasingly complex industry that has many more exciting challenges available to graduates than they realise.”