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The State of Engineering 2018

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With the first quarter of 2018 past us, the report compiled by EngineeringUK on the state of engineering related industries and employment for 2017 makes for interesting reading. Unfortunately much of it sounds all too familiar.

It’s no secret that the current demand for skilled engineers is far exceeding the current supply, with 61% of engineering associated businesses in the UK not being confident they will be able to fill their higher skilled positions. 

This is not a UK specific problem - countries all around the world are experiencing the same problem: how to encourage more people to take up engineering as a profession. What is a UK specific problem is how ineffective some of the efforts have been up to this point in correcting the problem – with them largely being undermined by other factors beyond the control of the industry itself.   

Laying the Foundations

It was simple enough to draw the conclusion that the decline in student uptake of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects in school was a major contributing factor to the decline in the numbers of engineering apprentices, graduates and post graduates being produced.

Initiatives have been launched to promote the subjects and encourage students to take an interest in the subjects. Cross discipline learning techniques are also being employed to try and demonstrate how universally applicable the subjects are to modern life, and how relevant and important they will be in the future – their future.

Alongside these efforts was a drive to make school leavers aware of the benefits available through apprenticeship schemes and how they are a viable alternative to university degrees – allowing apprentices to begin working, learning and earning immediately after leaving school.

Crucially, a significant number of these efforts only came about in the latter half of 2017 and while what the effect will be can be seen year on year through school and higher education uptake numbers, it will take a significant period of time for the results to be felt by the industry itself.

While representing light at the end of the tunnel, it doesn’t solve the problem now. The current shortfall in  numbers of new starters in engineering related roles needed annually is estimated to be between 37,000 and 59,000 every year – of which 22,000 of these are graduates. This has grown since the last report conservatively estimated it to be 20,000 each year.

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Recruitment Problems

Much of the effort that has gone into increasing student uptake has been hampered by the current teaching crisis that is very much ongoing. Recruitment targets for teachers have been missed for the fifth consecutive year, and 23% of all teachers who qualified between 2011 and 2015 have quit the profession – with science teachers being 20% more likely to have done so.

Pupil numbers has risen by over 500,000 in last 5 years, and yet during this time teacher numbers in STEM subjects has stagnated. This means that either classes for STEM subjects are overflowing - reducing the quality of education students are receiving. Or, they are simply not receiving the education from a qualified teacher at all.

The critical subject of Maths only filled 79% of available posts in 2017 – and with Physics only filling 68% and Design and Technology only managing a terrible 33%, it makes for alarming reading. All the initiatives in the world are not going to help if the teachers themselves aren’t there to educate the students.

It represents a failure that as it stands 58% of 11-14 year olds still know little to nothing about what apprenticeships do and the types available. 

The problems faced have also been exacerbated by the decision of the UK to leave the EU, as numbers of international workers which have been used to fill gaps in the workforce have declined – putting more pressure on the numbers or lack thereof coming through the education system.

The reports identifies the key problems as being the following:

Too few STEM teachers - recruitment and retention of STEM specialist teachers is a key issue.

Limited access to STEM careers activity - access to inspirational engineering-focused activities giving young people experiences of real life applications of engineering is uneven – impacting their subject and career decisions,

Too many initiatives - schools often struggle to identify which STEM engagement initiatives are most beneficial.

Too few women becoming engineers - women are underrepresented in every stage of education and employment relating to engineering.

Too little home grown talent – 69% of students studying in post graduate courses in the UK are not from the UK. Over reliance on international students has left the sector vulnerable to changes that could occur once the UK leaves the EU.

Too little understanding of apprenticeships – more needs to be done to increase awareness and improve perception of apprenticeships as an alternative to university education, and ensure they are of a good quality.

A set of recommendations has been proposed to address each of these issues, but whether or not they will be implemented remains to be seen.

Big Business

The engineering sectors contribution and importance to the UK cannot be overstated. Engineering related enterprises account for 23% of the UK’s turnover which amounts to £1.2 trillion, and 25% of the UK’s total Gross Domestic Product amounting to £420 billion.

The sector employs 19% of the UK’s total workforce, and has an employment multiplying of 2.74 – meaning for ever person employed in an engineering related role, another 1.74 jobs are supported by it giving a total dependency of 52%.

It offers an attractive proposition to those interested in employment within related industries, with a higher percentage of graduates finding full time employment and a higher mean average starting wage.

It is of critical importance that the issues currently being faced by the sector are addressed as soon as possible for the benefit of the UK as a whole - or risk jeopardising the productivity of a sector that contributes more value to the UK economy than the Financial, Insurance, Retail and Wholesale sectors combined.

If you would like to read the full report, please follow this link to EngineeringUK’s research page:
https://www.engineeringuk.com/research/  

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