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Mind the Gap: Why Creating the Engineering Workforce of Tomorrow is Everyone’s Business

At ENL Group, we are part of a growing, vibrant and cutting-edge UK engineering sector. We see our state-of-the-art plastic injection moulding production facilities as fitting firmly into the rich, British heritage of engineering and innovation which stretches back to well before the Victorian era.

However, engineering is a profession that has to look forward, not just back. Indeed, one of the things that makes engineering such an exciting and dynamic sector is that it is always evolving and embracing new technologies.

We wrote recently, for instance, about the new robots that we have installed at our Slovakian factory. As we saw in that case, new technologies and approaches are revolutionising the industry, and helping it to remain competitive in the face of overseas competition.

As the face of engineering changes, however, it is presenting a new skills challenge to UK firms. Ensuring that the right skills are available throughout the sector now has to be on every UK manufacturer’s to-do list.

The Engineering Skills Gap

At ENL Group we are always on the look out for talented engineers to join our workforce. But often it is difficult to find the specific skills that we need to continue to deliver high-quality plastic components to our customers.

This is not just an issue which affects us at ENL. It is something which impacts on the entire sector. In a recent survey of 250 engineering professionals, 37 per cent identified the skills deficit as having the biggest impact on their sector.

There is a financial cost too. Another report has estimated that the current shortage of employees with STEM skills is costing UK businesses £1.5bn a year in recruitment, temporary staffing, and additional training costs. And with new roles expected to double in the next ten years, this is a gap that the UK desperately needs to close if it is to remain competitive in the face of competition from abroad.

The same report also identified a current shortfall of 173,000 skilled workers as 89% of STEM businesses struggle to recruit, with engineering particularly impacted. All of the data indicates that this is potentially an issue that could get worse, as a generation of experienced engineers head towards retirement, taking their skills with them. According to ECITB, almost 20% of engineers currently working in the UK are due to retire by 2026.

This raises a challenge for the whole sector about how we work in a coordinated and strategic way to build and maintain a pipeline of skilled engineers with the skills needed for a rapidly changing sector.

Filling the Gap

The reality is, that we all have a responsibility to do more to communicate that careers in engineering and related disciplines can be fulfilling, stable and rewarding. Yet for too many young people, a career in engineering is simply dismissed as an option, often as a result of outdated stereotypes about the profession.

Addressing this requires action at every stage of the educational journey. Research shows that this issue often begins in our schools, where young people do not pursue the subjects that form the basis of a career in engineering.

This is a particular issue for girls, who often do not select pathways that include maths and sciences particularly once they get to ‘A’ level and degree stage. This leads to a significant underrepresentation on women on higher education courses. Currently, on higher education engineering courses, women making up a staggeringly low 19% of all students.

The net result is that the UK has the lowest participation of women in the engineering workforce in Europe. For a modern, growing, and inclusive sector, this is not good enough. This is not simply a matter of equalities. It is about businesses like ours having the widest range of skilled people to choose from when it comes to filling vacancies.

Engineers of the Future

It is also important to remember that the nature of engineering jobs themselves are changing. Too many people still perceive an engineer as a man in grease-streaked overalls, clutching a spanner in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. The reality is, that the future skills that we need in the sector are going to be in roles which are very different to this.

For instance, a recent report by LinkedIn on the wider UK emerging jobs market highlighted the growing demand for robotics engineers in the UK.  In fact, Robotics Engineer was in the top 3 when it came to emerging jobs across all sectors.

This is a critical point. We want young people to make decisions based on reality, not outdated stereotypes. Let’s face it, the engineers of the future are just as likely to be sipping a flat white at their laptop than they are to be clutching a spanner and a cup of tea.

This is a message that we are committed to communicating to young people. At ENL, one way we demonstrate this is through our commitment to apprenticeships. As a company, we have been taking on apprentices for the last decade, combining on the job training, college day release and focused personal development.  We are proud that many of our current staff started their journey with the business as apprentices, using it as the first step to a successful career in UK engineering.

As a business, we will continue to do all that we can to make our own contribution to ensuring that the sector has the future skills that it needs. It is, quite simply, too big an issue for any single organisation or sector to solve alone, and it is far too important for UK businesses to simply leave it to government. Instead, all of us who work in manufacturing have a responsibility to communicate clearly and often about the great careers that are available in engineering, and to put pathways in place that encourage talented young people to join the profession.

About ENL Group

ENL Group is based in Portsmouth, UK and Veľké Kostoľany, Slovakia. Established in 1958, we have been servicing UK-based and European companies for decades. Working with a secure supply chain, ENL provides quality components for quality-driven customers – with full certification for all of our products and quality checking at every stage.

Operating 24/7, we design, manufacture and deliver critical components for our customers across the UK and Europe.

Contact Us for more information about ENL and how we can help your business.