Knocking Down Barriers and Making Voices Heard: National Engineers Week 2023
National Engineers Week celebrates the vital role of engineering, shedding light on how engineers transform the world around us for the better, and encouraging others to add their voice to what is quite simply an indispensable, high-priority conversation.
It’s a well-known fact there’s a problematic skills shortage within the engineering industry, and Engineers Week provides an ideal opportunity to raise awareness of the shortcomings within the sector and highlight ways to generate long-lasting, impactful change.
Here, James Sopwith, Group Strategic Account Director at multidisciplinary socially responsible UK engineering firm adi Group, discusses how to take steps to actively change perceptions and ways of thinking to increase accessibility to the industry.
The roots and repercussions of the STEM skills gap
The skills shortage is one of the biggest challenges the engineering sector is facing. If businesses don’t make a commitment to creating programmes and initiatives designed to promote the benefits of engineering and increase access to the profession, we’re simply not going to be able to see the change we so desperately need.
In a recent report, The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) estimated a shortfall of over 173,000 engineers in the STEM field, with 49% of engineering firms struggling to find the skills they require when recruiting.
The IET places considerable focus on education and accessibility to the engineering field, highlighting schools’ shortcomings in presenting engineering as a valuable and viable career path.
The reasons for the existence of such a problematic skills gap are varied, ranging from lack of exposure to engineering and technology at a young age or not receiving enough support from parents, to not understanding the routes into this highly lucrative and rewarding career.
More should be done to alter the way engineering is perceived, consider how we can attract more skills to the field, and retain top talent, particularly as there are significant flaws and misconceptions in the way engineering is viewed by many, especially young people. If we are to make a positive impact, encouraging young individuals into an engineering career and creating ways for them to gain the skills required is key.
If 20% of the current engineering and manufacturing workforce is due to retire by 2026, we’ll keep losing valuable skills that we are simply not going to be able to replace should we remain on the same path of complacency and continue to lack business and government investment.
A widening STEM skills gap inevitably leads to the inability to meet demand, with severe consequences for UK businesses, which may struggle to survive, as well as the economy as a whole, which is known to lose around £1.5bn per year just due to STEM skills shortages.
Building skills for life: the role of apprenticeships
Schools often fail to make a direct connection between subjects such as maths and science and their practical application in fields such as engineering, meaning adding relevant programmes into curriculums may well be a viable solution.
However, it’s also schools’ continuous promotion of higher education over other paths such as apprenticeships that represents an issue, creating misconceptions and failing to highlight the substantial value of apprenticeships in building skills.
UK Government stats show that apprenticeship starts in 2021/22 were up by 8.6% from the previous year, though these were down again by 6.1% in 2022/23, showing that they are regrettably not on a path of steady growth.
If schools are not providing the right opportunities in the current climate, and with university degrees often failing to provide satisfactory practical expertise, apprenticeships are the ideal way to not only increase accessibility to the profession, but also build the hands-on skills needed to bridge the STEM skills gap.
Businesses must become more proactive in nurturing the future of engineering, and a vital part of this involves investing in apprenticeships.
These provide a cost-effective way for employers to gain access to fresh, young talent and help them gain access to the skillset they need in order to thrive and develop, while providing hands-on learning opportunities for young individuals, allowing them to obtain professional qualifications and further develop and progress within an organisation.
A lot of businesses’ apprentice intake is plummeting, and changing the image of engineering for the better by eliminating incorrect perceptions should be the first step.
With an ageing workforce representing a significant issue, young people are quite simply the future, and promoting engineering as exactly the exciting and valuable sector it is, is key to building a better future for the profession.
03/03/2023Enquire about this StoryReturn to News Overviews