The engineering skills gap has worsened by 8 per cent over the past five years – and with a 5.6 per cent increase in the number of engineering companies in the UK, the rift is set to get even wider.

The problem could be compounded by the looming spectre of Brexit and the potential restrictions on freedom of movement that may accompany Britain’s departure from the EU. In this guide, we’ll explore the problem that the UK faces with the lack of trained engineers and why apprenticeships might be the best option for plugging the hole.  

According to EngineeringUK, a not-for-profit organisation working to promote the industry and inspire future engineers, the industry is short of 69,000 skilled employers every year. Evidence also suggests the skills shortage dampens the growth of many engineering businesses – with a recent IoD survey stating that over a third of its members say it’s causing a huge growth problem to the industry. 

Lack of trained engineers

The engineering sector contributes to over a quarter of the UK’s GDP (gross domestic product) and has often been described as the ‘core of our society’ by many industry experts. However, that being said, an engineering career isn’t the most popular with young people today and they often don’t fully understand what opportunities are available with engineering. There’s also a massive gender imbalance in the field, with less than 13 per cent of engineering jobs are occupied by women.

Helen Atkinson, professor of engineering at the University of Leicester, explained that once individuals have gained an engineering qualification, they still don’t necessarily have the valuable skills in order to undertake the job properly:

“Employers regularly report that some of their university and college graduates lack the skills needed to make a productive contribution.  

“For example, they really need to understand how to cost an engineering activity to assess its impact on the bottom line.”

Skills gap solution

Apprenticeships have been hailed as a potential solution to plug the UK’s skill gap – with getting more young people work-ready and training them up in the workplace.

Dame Judith Hackitt, an RAEng (Royal Academy of Engineering) fellow and chair of manufacturing trade body EEF, explored the perceptions of apprenticeships within the engineering sector:    

“We need to break the outdated assumption that apprentice-trained engineers are somehow not as good as university graduates. That simply isn’t true.

“We have to address the reluctance of the UK system to produce its own Stem talent from the ground up.”

This will be crucial for the future of the engineering industry - with British companies needing an estimated 1.8 million more engineers and technicians by 2025.  

Benefits of home-grown engineers

Outsourcing engineers rather than taking on new apprentices or upskilling in-house staff can cause many problems, such as: 

  • Loss of control: A company can lose a degree of oversight on its business processes if the outsourcing organisation doesn’t follow their set procedures.
  • Increase in turnaround time: The time it takes for the company to complete a job could take  longer, being subject to another company's working schedule.
  • Performance: The quality of the outsourced engineers may not come up to the required expectations.
  • Cost: It could cost more to outsource solutions rather than utilising skilled staff within the company.

 Producing trained engineers can benefit your organisation – as well as the wider economy. The benefits to growing your own employees through apprenticeship schemes can be huge, including: 

  • They’ll be immersed in company culture.
  • You can customise course content so they’re trained to meet the needs of the business.
  • It can be more cost-effective and productive than relying on external alternatives.
  • There are higher qualifications and degree apprenticeships that’ll let you develop them from entry-level staff to top tier talent.  

These benefits won’t just help to plug the industry's widening skills gap – they could also provide a viable way to scale-up your business if the falling pound makes exports more worthwhile for engineering firms.

A weakening pound means UK products will look more attractive to overseas buyers, providing an opportunity for engineering companies to drive more sales abroad.

A survey by the Confederation of British Industry, suggested that strong demand from both domestic and overseas buyers has prompted factories to hire more staff to manage thriving export orders. Factory managers are feeling optimistic with the growth in exporting and therefore are looking to invest more in training and retraining.

Recognising the skills gap is one thing, taking action is another – understanding how best to address the problem is a vital concern for engineering companies, individuals and the UK’s economy. Otherwise, an uncertain future could be imminent.

And you?

Hopefully, we’ve managed to shed some light on the engineering skills gap and how we can overcome it but if you’ve got any questions about the topics above (or anything apprenticeship-related) - don’t hesitate to get in touch via Twitter or LinkedIn.

And if you’re an engineering company looking to take advantage of apprenticeships – our team have years’ of experience in industry and can create a tailored training solution that will enable you to train up in-house talent from entry-level roles to technical and specialist positions.

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