Manufacturing businesses in Britain (and elsewhere) are beginning to worry about skill shortages of engineering and technical specialists, as there are too few emerging from the education system.
Simply, the supply of new skilled talent is not sufficient. Troublingly, nearly half of those currently employed in the sector are over 45. EngineeringUK, which organised a summit meeting at the Department for Education in June, has warned that the sector will need 587,000 workers in Britain by 2017. Figures for the previous two decades seem to indicate a worrying pattern that not only is there a declining number of engineering graduates but also insufficient engineering graduates go on to actually pursue careers in the sector (often it is less than half the cohort).
Engineering and manufacturing form 13 per cent of Britain’s GDP, more than the finance sector. This force needs to grow, not contract. Crucially the culture of making, designing and constructing needs to reassert itself in Britain and to that end engineering must be restored to our nation’s imagination.
Some strategies are obvious; others will develop as things proceed. There ought to be a great degree of agreement on the issue, crossing separatist boundaries. Unity of manufacturers, scientists, unions, educationalists and planners can be forged. There must be more investment, as we fare badly as compared to competitors abroad.
Industry, education and planners need to work collaboratively and develop policies to nurture growth. It cannot be ducked – state investment has to be allocated, even in partnership with private industry, to carefully chosen industrial areas where there is a view that new products and projects can be developed. Government’s non-interventionist stance is handing the initiative to others around the world. Money invested in engineering and manufacturing will benefit the real economy unlike that wasted on parasitic banks.
A start needs to be made with the young in schools to encourage more students to choose maths and physics, essential to engineering; also, the shortage of degree qualified teachers in those subjects needs to be tackled. Industry and employers need to expand school leaver/graduate apprenticeship schemes and develop industry-wide career development programmes to entice a new generation to enter this field of work. ■