The figure, which manufacturers’ organisation the EEF highlighted during the recent Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, shows the vast scale of the manufacturing and engineering skills gap.
“It’s a sector which is continuing to grow and continuing to employ people,” said Verity Davidge, head of education and skills at the EEF. However, she pointed out, “we have got a lot of older people who are leaving the workforce”.
The result, according to Engineering UK, is an annual shortfall of 69,000 engineers and skilled graduates. The situation is the same across many sectors, said Davidge, with high demand but insufficient numbers of applications in mechanical, chemical and electrical engineering. “Around three-quarters of our members say they’ve actually struggled to fill key engineering positions in the past three years, and looking ahead that concern is definitely growing,” she told Professional Engineering.
Faced with the shortfall of skilled applicants, and with one eye on the potential effects that Brexit will have on the job market, some employers are taking action to tackle the problem. The new Marches Centre of Manufacturing and Technology in Shropshire is run by a consortium of Grainger & Worrall, In-Comm Training, Salop Design & Engineering and Classic Motor Cars, and aims to “flood the market with new talent”.
The centre’s managing director Matthew Snelson told PE: “If companies don’t basically train and ‘grow your own, keep your own,’ then all we are going to do is cannibalise each other… and that does nobody good. It just makes us more uncompetitive, and therefore business will move overseas.”
Eight local employers have already sent trainees to the centre, and the consortium hopes to create more than 2,020 “learning opportunities” by 2020. The main aim, said Snelson, is regional economic growth: if the centre inspires other employers and contributes to tackling the wider skills gap, that is a bonus.
“The quality of engineers that we put into the workplace and then the impact they can have on their business” is key, he said. “It was never our intent to set an example, a benchmark – we are trying to satisfy what we need locally.”
When looking for their 265,000 extra employees, companies should also be more “creative,” claimed Davidge. Bosses should look to neighbouring industries for people with transferable skills, as well as offering current workers extra training to fill gaps left by senior staff who are retiring.
“We need to make sure that we are continuing to upskill and reskill. It’s those more experienced roles that we need to fill,” she said. “You are not going to get that immediately from the apprentices and graduates that you are recruiting today.”
Changing the world
A new IMechE report entitled The Culture of Engineering in Schools also calls for a more fundamental policy rethink, suggesting that the government’s championing of apprenticeships could fall flat without the inspired young people needed to fill them.
“Too few young people are aware of its value, but modern engineering has the power to change the world for the better,” wrote the report’s author Peter Finegold, IMechE head of education and skills. “It also promises economic growth for our nation, creative career opportunities and sound financial rewards.”
The government should put engineering at the heart of school education, says the report, with updated curricula and individualised engineering strategies for schools.
“A new narrative around engineering in schools could present fulfilling opportunities for young people,” wrote JJ Churchill’s managing director Andrew Churchill, “and deliver the skills desired by industry and the occupational agility that will be an essential element of working lives in the coming decades.”
Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily reflect the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers