Skills shortage? What skills shortage?

The Engineer

If you find yourself redundant, it must be pretty galling to repeatedly read that engineering skills – your skills – are in short supply. 

When late last year we reported that Engineering UK had identified a need for 587,000 new skilled workers to meet increased demand in areas such as green energy, aerospace and transport, our story was met with a chorus of incredulity. ‘If our skills are in such short supply,’  readers asked ‘why can’t we find any work?’ 

But still, it seems, not a day goes by without someone from either government, or one of the many quangos with an engineering and technology brief, identifying an engineering skills gap.  

We would argue that the term ‘skills shortage’ not only paints an unnecessarily bleak picture, but is also a little insulting to those who have spent decades honing their skills on the coal-face of British industry. Instead perhaps it would be more helpful to lose the phrase “skills shortage” and characterise the problem as a ‘skills transfer’ issue.

It’s clear that many areas of UK industry which historically, and until relatively recently employed large number of skilled engineers, are unlikely to return to their former glory anytime soon. But it’s equally true, that a range of emerging industries – from renewable energy, to low carbon vehicles and advanced manufacturing, do present significant opportunities for the UK. And rapidly retraining and repurposing the skills of engineers from areas of industry that are in decline will  be key to exploiting these opportunities. For more on this, have a look at our news story Making The Best It, which looks at how the skills of Corus’ Teesside steelworkers might be turned to the manufacture of wind turbines.

At the root of all this there’s an optimistic message for engineers wondering whether they might after all have been better off following that career in the city. There are a range of emerging industries which present significant opportunities for the UK, and these industries require skilled engineers. What’s required now is for government to match its words with deeds and properly get to terms with the challenge of transferring engineers’ skills into industries with promise. There’s no time to lose.

What do you think the future holds for the workers affected by the Teesside Corus mothballing? Are their skills transferable or relevant to the future of UK manufacturing? To have your say on this emotive issue, please send us your comments and take part in our online poll.