Encourafging news from one of the UK’s biggest engineering employers is accompanied by more dire warnings about skills shortages. It’s time we started hearing more about schoolchildrens’ views on the sector and real solutions to the problems
Briefing starts the week with good news from Jaguar Land Rover, which is creating 1,300 new jobs at its plant in Solihull.
Adding to the 1,700 jobs created at the same facility to help with the introduction of the Jaguar XE, the new intake will work on a new ‘performance crossover’ model set to debut in 2016.
The company made the announcement at this week’s NAIAS in Detroit, Michigan, with Dr Ralph Speth, JLR CEO stating: ‘Today’s announcements once again demonstrate our commitment to the UK and the advancement of a high-tech, highly-skilled, manufacturing-led economy.
‘Jaguar Land Rover is committed to delivering more great products. It is that innovation and relentless quest for new technologies that sets our products apart. We want to offer customers greater choice, with even more exciting vehicles, crafted with that special British flair.’
There are, of course, plenty of British companies that apply the very same ‘British flair’ to their products but a new report published today indicates yet again that employers are going to find it increasingly difficult to fill positions.
According to Engineering UK, filling the demand for new engineering jobs will generate an additional £27bn per year for the UK economy from 2022 but to hit this target the number of engineering apprentices and graduates entering the industry will need to double.
In Engineering UK 2015 The State of Engineering, EngineeringUK explored the engineering sector’s capacity and expectations for growth whilst scrutinizing engineering in education, training and employment.
Fiscally, the sector currently represents a quarter of Britain’s turnover. According to Stephen Tetlow MBE, chief executive of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, engineers contribute over £1 trillion to the economy, which is four times that of the retail sector.
However, according to EngineeringUK, 182,000 people with engineering skills will be needed by engineering companies to 2022, but a shortfall of 55,000 skilled workers is hindering the industry.
By now many of you will be thinking that you’ve heard all of this before and you’d be right; after all there doesn’t seem to be a quarter in any given calendar year without a trade association, professional body or institution issuing dire warnings about skills shortages.
We all know about the problem, but is there any common ground in attempting to find a solution?
For its part, EngineeringUK issued a five-point plan that aims to help to rectify the situation by suggesting:
- A doubling of the number of young people studying GCSE physics as part of triple sciences.
- A two-fold increase in the number of Advanced Apprenticeship achievements.
- Either a doubling of the number of engineering graduates or a 50 per cent increase in the number of engineering and technology and other related STEM as well as non-STEM graduates who are known to enter engineering companies.
- Provision of careers inspiration for all 11-14 year olds.
- Support for teachers and careers advisors delivering careers information.
Commenting on EngineeringUK’s findings, Tetlow said: ‘We need a wholesale change in the way we value science and technology in schools and society. We can no longer rely on appealing just to the small proportion of people who are passionate about science, technology engineering and maths subjects.
‘We need science and engineering to be brought to life in the school curriculum and resources prioritised so that we can start to plug the appalling gaps we face. We need to understand the fundamental role engineers make to just about every walk of life and to our health and well-being. Resources need to be prioritised accordingly. And it’s not just government that needs to take action.
‘Employers of engineers need to welcome teachers, students and parents through their doors to show just what an exciting career can be had as an engineer.’
Its clear that this is a discussion that many argue should start in classroom and efforts such as Tomorrow’s Engineers are making great strides in ensuring that every 11-to-14 year old gets involved first-hand in an engineering experience.
In doing so, students relate what they learn in school to the very real world that surrounds them, and opens their eyes to the myriad of opportunities offered by a STEM career.
Such schemes could also help redress gender imbalance in the workplace. Writing in The Telegraph in November 2014, Erik Bonino, chairman of Shell UK said: ‘Figures show that girls who participate in the [Tomorrow’s Engineers] programme are 50pc more likely to see engineering as an attractive career choice. It’s a proven model that reached more than 50,000 students in over 1,200 UK schools last year.’
However, as Bonino said in his piece for The Telegraph ‘business, government and the engineering community need to stop launching programmes in isolation and instead coordinate their efforts.’
Arriving at a solution could also be helped if we sat down with youngsters more often and asked them what they think about STEM subjects and STEM careers.
Do they think that an engineering career is something that ‘other people do’ and is somehow not for them? What do they really know about engineering and its significance in relation to the world around them? Are they wrongly fearful of certain aspects of a career in the sector? Are they in two minds about their options, with a competing sector currently holding sway on their future decisions?
These probably aren’t the sort of questions that need to asked, but young people need to be engaged in this discussion in order for them to fully understand where engineering can take them.