Training the young will help fill skills gap

More young people need to receive the right training to enter engineering careers if we are to fill skills gaps in the future, says Paul Jackson.

September brought with it a silly season of daft stories about graduate destinations. Behind the attention-grabbing headlines, the real situation in engineering is more complex – making for a more nuanced, less media-friendly, but more meaningful read. Skills shortages do exist in particular engineering areas and the real point is the continual challenge to the engineering community to ensure that young people receive the right training to meet future demands.

I hope that today’s students will not be discouraged. Yes there are challenges, but engineering skills are transferable and desirable and will be needed in the future. Our own research gives a more accurate reflection of engineering supply and demand. It also paints a more heartening picture for budding engineers.

Engineering enables the development of society at home and abroad on a large scale. The opportunities in advanced manufacturing, manu-services, low-carbon and environmental goods and services, not to mention the £500bn needed over the next 20 years just to maintain our transport and energy infrastructure, underline the need for skilled engineers.

’We’re going to get Britain making things again’ was George Osborne’s call to action at the recent Conservative Party Conference. As Osborne should know, Britain already makes a huge number of ’things’ and as the world’s seventh-largest manufacturer this show of governmental support for engineering is an encouraging sign. Let’s build on what we’re good at.

“Many leading UK businesses already play a large role in the education of young people”

If we’re going to do that effectively, we need to address the demographic timebomb, which will see the proportion of the population aged 16-64 fall from 65 per cent to 59 per cent in the next 25 years. The only way we’ll do that is by showing young people the potential of engineering and by influencing their parents and teachers.

According to the Sector Skills Assessments for the 10 engineering-related Sector Skills Councils, engineering companies need more than 2.2 million employees over the next 5-10 years. The health of our economy relies upon our ability to seize these opportunities, and convey the rewards of an engineering career to young people. Our research shows that engineering graduates and technicians have a bright future ahead of them: the average graduate salary six months after graduating for those in engineering and technology roles is £24,952; 11 per cent more than the £22,364 average graduate salary for all subjects. Non-graduates in the industry earn 47 per cent more than others in work without a degree.

Across the board, new graduates are taking longer to enter the workplace; a dispiriting experience for young people anxious to begin their careers. However, almost nine in 10 engineering graduates who graduated in 2010 were either in work or had opted to undertake further study, and two thirds of engineering and technology graduates are more likely to go into jobs related to their field of study than other graduates.

The opportunities and the demand for workers are there; what is lacking is the balance between the skills requirements of business and industry and the skills provided by education.

Our new analyses show that while demand is clearly there, economic growth risks being stalled if we leave various supply issues unabated.

Many leading UK businesses already play a significant role in education. As the future employers of today’s young people, they are well placed to help improve the content of the curriculum to meet the needs of our future engineers.

Providing young people, their teachers and the wider public with a real picture of what it is to be an engineer today, and making available the information and resources necessary to make informed career decisions seems a sensible antidote to scare stories about an industry that is vital to our society.

Paul Jackson

Chief executive, Engineering UK

  • Jackson has held a variety of roles in technology-based businesses, encompassing contract R&D, the media, the charity sector and local government
  • Trained as an engineer, Jackson spent the early part of his career at ERA Technology before moving in to the technology media
  • After a series of progressive roles within United Business Media, Jackson moved to the Institution of Electrical Engineers, now the Institution of Engineering and Technology, later becoming director of professional operations
  • Most recently, Jackson has been the executive director of Jasia, the company he established to support membership and media organisations in their strategic development
  • He is a Trustee of the Engineering Council Board. Jackson also works with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Children, Schools and Families as a member of the Science For Careers Expert group