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'Colossal UK skills shortage' threatens huge potential job growth from driverless cars

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Mike Potts (right) with the StreetDrone (Credit: StreetDrone)
Mike Potts (right) with the StreetDrone (Credit: StreetDrone)

The switch to driverless cars could create 37,300 UK jobs by 2035 – but a “colossal skills shortage” might mean many potential roles go unfilled, a report has warned.

The analysis, published today by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) and self-driving start-up StreetDrone, shows that the skills gap might undermine the country’s ambitions to be a global leader in connected and autonomous vehicles.

The news follows the warning from the Transport Systems Catapult earlier this week, which said the transport sector must invest more in intelligent mobility or risk other countries taking the lead in the potentially £1.4tn market by 2030.

The government is pushing the transition – Chancellor Philip Hammond has pledged that fully driverless cars would be on the road by 2021 – and an accelerating switch to autonomous vehicles could create almost 10,000 net new positions, the research found. The report also identified potential for wider job creation from improved worker productivity and infrastructure modifications associated with driverless cars.

The number of jobs in autonomous vehicle roles is predicted to grow by 9.6% annually from 2020, but enrolments onto relevant degree courses are increasing by just 2% and apprenticeships by 3.9%. “This suggests that, at the current rate of growth, there will not be enough young people emerging from university and apprenticeship courses to meet the rising demand,” the research announcement said.

“Annual enrolments onto relevant university degrees and apprenticeships are rising steadily, with around 200,000 entries into computer science, information technology, engineering or manufacturing degrees or apprenticeships,” said CEBR economist Pablo Shah.

“However, if annual enrolments continue to increase at the current rate, they are unlikely to keep up with the expected surge in demand for technical skills that will be generated by the emergence of the connected and autonomous vehicle sector, and more broadly by the growth of fields such as artificial intelligence and big data.”

Compounding the skills gap is the fact that there are only three undergraduate degrees specifically designed for the industry, all at the University of Salford.

The researchers called for more self-driving technology courses in universities and more industry investment. The sector should also highlight the potential high salaries available and encourage female participation, the analysts said.

“If Britain is to be one of the best places in the world to develop, test and sell connected and autonomous vehicles, we need more of the brightest brains studying the subject – at present we’re heading for a colossal skills shortage,” said StreetDrone managing director Mike Potts.


Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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