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Opinion: Tackling the engineering skills gap
According to a recent report by Engineering UK, to close the ever-increasing skills gap in the engineering sector, capturing the minds of the next generation must be a key focus for the industry moving forward. As we mark International Women in Engineering Day on June 23, 2018, Andrew Keith, engineering director at Cressall, looks at what can be done to tackle the engineering skills gap.
The Engineering UK report outlines that the engineering workforce doesn’t reflect the overall diversity of the general working population, showing particular disparity in relation to gender. Figures show that, while women comprised 46.9 per cent of the overall UK workforce in 2016, only 20.5 per cent of those work in the engineering sector, and the figure is even lower, at 12 per cent, for those working in core engineering roles.
A subsequent Engineering UK Engineering Brand Monitor Survey (EBM) says that more work needs to be done to inform young people, particularly girls, about what a career in engineering actually means. Currently, in every age group, boys are far more likely to consider an engineering career than girls.
The EBM survey also highlights that pupils across all ages are less likely to understand what an engineering job is compared to career options in science or technology. Unfortunately, as a result, many potential future engineers don’t realise the full breadth of opportunities available to them.
With media focus and technology advancements, certain aspects of engineering get more attention, with mobile and programming engineering industries becoming increasingly popular. This means that more traditional areas of the sector, like electrical or power distribution, may be overlooked by students.
Working closely with schools to offer careers information, practical activities and or lesson plans for teachers will help to capture the imagination of the next generation of potential engineers considering their future.
Offering opportunities to students while they are studying provides a huge advantage to the industry, as theycan learn and develop practical skills and support the business with their enthusiasm and up-to-date academic knowledge. This often leads to students being offered full time positions with their placement organisations, building rewarding and successful careers.
At Cressall, we have worked with several local universities to offer year-long placements. This not only brings students into a real-life work environment sooner, but also helps offer practical skills and experience to those exploring which career path to follow.
One example of student placement success is Helen Marston, who joined Cressall for a year-long placement during her third year at university. We offered Helen a full-time position post-study in the first six weeks of her placement and she has worked at Cressall for thirteen years since graduating.
Helen said: “I knew from a young age that I wanted my career to be in the engineering industry. However, when I was at school, I’d spoken to a careers advisor and they had provided me with information that, had I followed it, would have prevented me pursuing the career in engineering that I wanted. Providing teachers and school administrative staff, like careers advisors, with the correct information will mean that students today won’t inadvertently be guided off the course of their chosen career.”
Knowledge is key
Despite the well-publicised engineering skills gap, many students, like Helen, simply aren’t provided with the right information when it matters most.
Engineering UK’s EBM survey reveals that young people aged 11 to 19 who would consider a career in engineering has risen from 40 per cent in 2013 to 51 per cent in 2017. However, this figure begins to drop as students get older, with only 39 per cent of 16 to 19-year olds considering the profession.
With less than two thirds of Year 11 students (aged 15 to 16) indicating that they had received careers-related education, offering students, regardless of their age, gender or ethnicity useful, accessible and timely careers advice will be vital to closing the skills shortage, before it gets too late.