The latest report from EngineeringUK, the body that works in partnership with the engineering community to promote the role of engineers and engineering, makes for interesting reading. Yet again it recognises that demand for engineers continues to exceed supply and that much more needs to be done to encourage young people to pursue what is called a STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) education and career.
Some of the numbers in the EngineeringUK report are amazing and certainly indicate the scale of the problem facing the engineering industry as a whole. A study by the Warwick Institute for Employment Studies, undertaken on EngineeringUK’s behalf, once estimated that in the ten years to 2024, well over a million graduate and technician grade engineering jobs will have arisen across all industries as a result of both replacement and new positions.
The Warwick Institute study assumed that this would be uniformly distributed across the ten-year span which translates to the need for 124,000 qualified engineering roles every year. In addition, the study anticipates an additional annual requirement for 79,000 ‘related’ roles requiring a combination of engineering knowledge alongside other skill sets. Altogether, this means 203,000 people with good engineering skills are required each year to meet expected demand.
Interestingly, of this total annual net requirement, only around 60% is expected to be needed throughout the engineering sector itself. Since engineering skills are increasingly needed across all types of industry, the remainder of the projected requirement for Level 3+ engineering occupations is expected to arise outside of the engineering sector.
Plugging the gap
The issue of the engineering skills gap continues to catch the attention of government, with significant investment and policy initiatives aimed at increasing the take up of STEM subjects, the status of technical education and the supply of key skills.
Projections from the Office of National Statistics recognise that there will be significant increases in the number of 12 to 16-year olds over the next five years. Given that these make up the age group that could potentially plug the engineering skills gap, more must be done to promote the range of career opportunities available to all these engineers of tomorrow.
It is important that this engineering career “showcasing” happens very quickly since these young people are making the kind of educational decisions now that will influence where they will end up workwise.
The Department for Education has published the long-awaited careers strategy for England. This has been called a welcome initiative with a clear timetable for action, allowing the sector to hold the government to account for progress. The government’s vision for a revised technical education and apprenticeships landscape, its Social Mobility Action Plan and its commitments to raising the take up and quality of STEM learning through the industrial strategy is intended to bring about the ‘skills revolution’ this country needs, and safeguard investment in education and skills from the uncertainty surrounding Brexit.
There are a number of issues – beyond the bare numbers – that need addressing, including subjects like diversity and inclusion. These are very important factors to get right but the first steps must surely be to improve how we educate our engineers of tomorrow and how they transition from education to employment.
However, at least we are seeing some action which hopefully will see more young people wanting to work in some form of engineering.