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Why Tackling the STEM skills shortage is key to the UK’s engineering future

At ENL Group, we rely on skilled engineers to produce the high-quality components that our customers’ businesses rely on.

This is why, like many other firms in the UK manufacturing sector, we want to make sure that there is a pipeline of skilled employees that will allow the UK engineering industry to continue to grow and deliver for the nation. However, for this to happen, action must be taken to address the UK’s engineering skills gap.

A Long Term Challenge

This is a problem that policymakers and employers have struggled with for decades. Solving it will not be a quick fix, but that does not mean that we should not be taking action.

There is a famous Chinese proverb that says, “the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is today.” Like a tree, a skills pipeline takes decades to develop.  If we want to have skilled engineers in 20 years’ time, then we need to be taking action in schools and colleges from today.

What are STEM Skills?

STEM is an acronym that stands for “science, technology, engineering and mathematics.” This covers a range of subjects and sectors, from civil engineering, to biosciences, to statistics. It also covers different branches of engineering – electrical, mechanical, chemical and many more besides.

At ENL, most of our production processes depend on having skilled engineers who are able to make the tools that we need for our high-tech moulding process. This is a specialist role which is in demand from a wide range of advanced manufacturing companies in the UK and worldwide.

As a company we do what we can to develop and support the skills pipeline. For instance, for over a decade we have been taking on apprentices, who benefit from on-the-job training, college day release and focused personal development.  Many of our current staff started their journey with the business as apprentices, using it as a springboard to a successful career in UK engineering.

But ultimately, individual company approaches such as this can only go so far. The root cause of the STEM skills shortage goes far beyond what any one manufacturer can address. Instead, it requires coordinated action from schools, colleges, universities, industry, and government.

The STEM Skills Shortage

The UK’s STEM skills shortage is not new. It has been the focus of political, policy, and industry debate for decades. It is estimated to cost employers an astonishing £1.5 billion each year in additional training costs, recruitment, temporary staffing and salary inflation. This is a cost which is ultimately borne by customers, which means that addressing the nation’s STEM skills shortage is in everyone’s interests.

However, the jobs market is dynamic, changing much more quickly than skills providers are able to keep up with. STEM jobs are growing much faster than jobs in other sectors. New roles are expected to double in the next ten years, meaning this is a skills gap that the UK desperately needs to close if it is to remain competitive. Standing still is simply not good enough. We need to take action now to ensure that we are building the workforce of tomorrow.

If we fail to do so, it is not just companies like our own which will suffer. The wider economy will too. STEM skills are recognised as being vital to economic development and international competitiveness. In a recent employer survey, over half of respondents agreed that “a lack of talent could put off foreign investment”. As the national economy recovers from the pandemic, this is investment that the UK can ill afford to miss out on.

Creating a Diverse Workforce

One of the ways that we can start to address the STEM shortage is by recognising that, for too long, engineering has had a workforce that does not fully reflect today’s society. This is something that is an issue of education rather than recruitment practices, as we wrote about recently.

For instance, on higher education engineering courses, women currently make up an astonishingly low 19% of all students. This has resulted in the UK having the lowest participation of women in the engineering workforce in Europe.

The skills gaps we face, particularly as a generation of experienced engineers heads towards retirement, is that as an industry we can no longer afford to recruit from just one part of the gene pool. Creating a more diverse engineering workforce is not just the right thing to do for society. It is the right thing to do for business too.

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.