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Encouraging 1 in 5 pupils to become engineers will still not be enough

Posted by: Tom Webb-Skinner 15 Oct 13 - 11:35AM  | Chairman's Blog

Press release

Jonathan Lee Recruitment’s Chairman warns that recent industry reports calling for 20% of all pupils to become engineers are too conservative if the industry is to maintain its international standing.

According to industry research, one in five young people will need to become an engineer if the UK has any chance of addressing severe skills shortages, but according to Jonathan Lee, that figure does not take into account the potential for significant growth during economic recovery. As the Chairman of leading engineering recruitment agency Jonathan Lee Recruitment, it is his view that the future of Britain’s industry will require a far greater shift in the nation’s educational output to prevent a continual decline in international standings.

“40,000 STEM students every year might be enough to fill the current industry requirements, but a far greater effort will be needed if we want to stay ahead of our competition,” says Mr Lee. “Rebalancing our economy away from services and towards manufacturing will exacerbate existing shortages, but as the economy continues to recover you can expect several sectors to bounce back from a long period of zero growth. Some sectors such as automotive and aerospace have been buoyant for some time and already have chronic skills shortages. The same will be happening in rival nations as well, making international supply-chain competition extremely fierce. If the issue isn’t addressed now, the knock-on effects on industry competitiveness could be severe, especially for SMEs.”

One of the worst skills shortages is in the UK automotive industry, which is of strategic importance to the UK and a key part of the nation’s industrial output. Over 20 percent of all automotive vacancies remain unfilled because of lack of suitably qualified candidates. Similar skills shortages are being experienced across a range of industries, with data from the Office of National Statistics indicating that other key high-value industries are being affected including aerospace, construction and biotech.

Currently, the automotive sector employs around 720,000 people in total with production in the UK experiencing high levels of growth at around 9 percent a year. If employment mirrors that growth then there will be a huge increase in demand for skilled staff. The automotive industry might be a key sector for the economy but its share of the employment market is relatively small. If a similar level of expansion were experienced across all sectors, industry could face a skills-deficit crisis.

Furthermore, there are several government investment programmes aimed at kickstarting precisely that kind of growth including a £1bn UK Aerospace Technology Institute, seven technology and innovation ‘Catapult’ centres, and a host of infrastructure projects like HS2, a third reactor at Hinkley, shale gas fracking and a possible replacement or expansion of Heathrow.

STEM subject graduates already enjoy a wage premium, and a high level of skills demand is leading to increased competition for staff, driving up wage costs. That trend threatens SMEs which could be priced out of the employment market. If SMEs fail, crucial supply lines would shift abroad, the UK would lose a key part its economy, and industry would suffer from increased risk of supply disruption and increased component costs.

“We need to grow our industry from the ground up, with a primary focus on developing innovation through continual education and skills improvement,” says Jonathan. “Great Britain has been an engineering powerhouse in the past, and there is no reason it can’t be again, but to achieve that would require a cultural shift. Parents, schools and the nation’s industry need to make engineering focussed careers one of the most appealing destinations for school leavers. If industry wants to secure its long term future, it also has to look at flexible recruitment policies, coupled with training and development investment, to build a workforce from a mixture of graduates, apprentices and other sources of skilled labour.”

For more information like this why not see: SMMT, UK Commission for Employment and Skills and The Royal Academy of Engineering

As featured on Personnel Today and Industry Today.

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