Progress being made on skills shortage but industry can't rest on its laurels

A new event to highlight the skills and attributes of the industry’s engineers and technicians has been launched by the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE). The inaugural ACE Skills Summit: Future-proofing consultancy and engineering, takes place on Wednesday 6 June 2018 at the Marriott Grosvenor Square, London and will focus on the key skills issues facing the industry. 

Issues including how to attract and retain the next generation, the challenge of filling the skills gap and how best to deal with the loss of knowledge as more experienced generations retire will all be given an airing at the event. 

Ahead of the event Infrastructure Intelligence spoke to Mark Titterington, chief executive of Engineering UK. An organisation which aims to inspire and inform people on the benefits of starting a career in engineering. Infrastructure Intelligence asked the man at the helm on whether more work was still needed to change perceptions.

Q: Is more education needed to make young people aware of the opportunities available to them?

A: The State of Engineering report we have produced shows just how far engineering skills are woven into the fabric of the economy. It’s not just engineers working for engineering companies, it’s engineers working for the Sygentas of this world and it just challenges what you think an engineer does and the careers available to them. But yes, absolutely we need to challenge the perception of what it is to be an engineer. When I talk to young people they automatically respond with digging tunnels and building bridges, it’s heavy industrial work. We have an awful lot to do to open young people’s eyes to the modern, exciting world of engineering.

Q: Is recruitment a British problem? Are our European counterparts managing to encourage more young people into the industry?

A: This is my opinion and not necessarily fact, but from my observations in the role so far, and looking across the world, one thing that stands out is the degree to which countries like Germany view the apprenticeship as a technical route into a career. There seems to be a greater value placed on them and their status, compared to what we have in the UK. I think we have got to try and emulate that and hopefully the apprenticeship levy will go some way to improving things. Apprenticeship programs are a terrific pathway into engineering and allowing someone to get to the very top of the tree as well as university pathways. It must be seen as a credible alternative to university and I’m not sure we have been as good at that as our European neighbours.

"We are making progress but we cannot rest on our laurels and young people need meaningful interactions with companies that they one day might work with." 
Mark Titterington, Engineering UK.

Q: How worried should we be about the skills shortage or is there room for optimism?

A: Our latest report forecasts an annual demand of 124,000 core engineering roles and a shortfall of 59,000. We do have a shortfall and I don’t think many people would challenge that. But it does depend where you sit in the economy and how acute this is shortfall is. A number of blue chip companies may not report shortfalls in their company but when you go down into their supply chains and extend beyond the core engineering company then you are sure to see that shortfall. 
We do have a challenge and we have to continue to get employers into schools and young peoples’ lives to tell them about the kind of careers they can have. The school curriculum needs to be responsive to those firms and what they need. There is ground for optimism, the perceptions do look like they are beginning to improve. The latest research we have carried out shows 51% of young people would consider a career in engineering which compares to the 41% in 2013. We are making progress but we cannot rest on our laurels and young people need meaningful interactions with companies that they one day might work with.

Q: What role does Engineering UK play in helping to ensure the industry continues to attract the next generation of talent? 

We are about inspiring and informing the next generation of engineers that are coming out of the education system. In terms of informing, we probably play two or three roles, we help employers to develop and continuously improve their engagement activities that are part of modern engineering. We also play a bit part in career information which is accessible to teachers, young people and their influencers. It helps describe the type of careers and opportunities available whether that’s through the academic route or the more technical apprenticeship route into engineering. The terrific thing about that is that its not just what you would imagine, it’s not just the hard helmets and hi-viz jackets but it’s everything from water engineering to renewable energy which is so wonderful about this modern world of engineering.

Q: What messages or topics of discussion will you be raising at ACE’s Skills Summit?

A: I’ll be looking at the overall skills pipeline and the need from both a societal and economic perspective to ensure that our education system is equipping young people with the skills they need to pursue these career pathways. I’ll be talking about the need to join up our employers with the activities in schools as one way of doing that. The diversity question will also be raised and how I believe the engineering workforce of today does not reflect the diversity of the UK. We need to focus on getting more women into the sector and those from ethnic minorities and socially disadvantaged areas. This is really important with reservoirs of talent being untapped.

For more information on ACE's Skills Summit, click here.

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