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4 minute read

Opinion: The Skills Challenge – What We Can Do?

Stew Edmondson is CEO of the UK Electronics Skills Foundation (UKESF). Following various surveys and reports, on one hand, saying that many young people are keen to embark on a career in engineering and the other saying manufacturers are crying out for new talent to combat a skills shortage, here he argues there are some practical things that every individual company could do now, to move beyond good intentions and shares some experiences from the electronics sector that other sectors could learn from.

The State of Engineering 2017 report from Engineering UK once again highlighted that while engineering makes a significant contribution to our economy in the UK, there is a significant skills shortage.  It is estimated that the shortfall of graduates in engineering is over 40,000.  According to the UK Commission for Employment & Skills, 43% of STEM vacancies are hard to fill. Put simply, based on the current estimates, the UK cannot meet the forecasted demand for skilled engineers and technicians in the future. We know that this is especially true in the Electronics sector.

Research from the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) found that 69% of employers in the Electronics sector say that a lack of available candidates is a problem when recruiting graduates. Over a number of years, simply too few students have been studying Electrical & Electronic Engineering.  This in combination with an ageing workforce means that there are insufficient graduate engineers to drive forward innovation and progress.

69% of employers in the Electronics sector say that a lack of available candidates is a problem when recruiting graduates / Picture: Getty/iStock


People certainly ‘get’ the skills issue, recognise its importance and want solutions. The problem is that these solutions are almost generational in their nature and require systemic and cultural changes; these all take considerable effort and changes of this nature don’t happen overnight. This obviously leads to frustration. However, there are some practical things that every individual company could do now to move beyond good intentions and start taking steps to help tackle the skills challenge facing the Electronics sector.

Teachers, especially Science and Design & Technology teachers, are vitally important in influencing children’s interest in STEM.  However, the reality is that too few of these teachers know enough about Electronics to effectively stimulate interest and enthusiasm in the sector.  The STEM Insight programme supports teachers to take part in week-long placements with STEM employers. You can visit the webpage to find an example of how you can support a teacher from a local school to find first-hand about the careers available in the industry. The scheme needs more Electronics companies to get involved – there is no financial cost, just a commitment to host a teacher from a local school for a short placement, helping them to learn a little more about Electronics and careers opportunities in the sector.

However, rather than ‘going it alone’, companies make a difference by working collaboratively with the UKESF (, either by participating in our scholarship scheme or by making a donation to support one of our STEM events.  This year, 10 new companies join the UKESF Scholarship Scheme and there were also a record number of applications from students from the 18 leading universities that partner with the UKESF.  Details of the scheme are here or contact for more information. As well as making a valuable contribution to their company, scholars are great ambassadors for promoting Electronics in schools and the UKESF provides them with the resources and wherewithal to go into schools and deliver talks and practical sessions about Electronics.

In terms of STEM events, then with donations from companies the UKESF are able to provide a whole range of different events, for example a fully facilitated and professionally delivered Electronics-themed day session for up to 36 pupils. The UKESF has also developed, in partnership with the University of Southampton, a CPD course for Physics teachers to increase their knowledge of Electronics and to provide some innovative classroom resources. The UKESF sponsors a number of residential courses for 16–17 year olds, which is delivered in partnership with sponsors and speakers from the Electronics sector and academics from leading universities. This gives students a taster of degree study and careers in Electronics ahead of making their UCAS applications.

Therefore, if you care about skills, there are a range of very practical and locally based things that you can do to move beyond talk about the shortage. Together, we can start to make a difference.

CEO of UK Electronics Skills Foundation, Stew Edmondson / Picture: UKESF