In its 2018 ‘State of Engineering’ report, Engineering UK forecasted an annual shortfall of over 20,000 engineers per year between now and 2024. That’s a conservative estimate, the report states, particularly regarding higher-level skills and certainly reflects the concerns many of our clients have about the future.
There are several factors contributing to the UK’s chronic shortage of skills: years of offshoring production resulting in the loss of specialist know-how, a shift in national focus from vocational training to university degrees, and continued misperceptions regarding the well-paid and rewarding roles manufacturing and engineering careers offer.
Equally detrimental has been the almost constant change to academic qualifications and frameworks.
Nearly 30 skills reforms in as many years have “alienated businesses, confused learning providers and failed to deliver the skills the country requires.” That’s the rather damning conclusion of a January 2018 report by the CBI into the delivery of skills in England.
Manufacturing, like every other sector, operates within a rapidly changing skills landscape. Digital skills have risen in prominence, as has the need for qualified data scientists, adoption or implementation managers, and operational or technologists – the modern evolution of automation engineers.
With the speed of change and the complexity of the issues involved, no single solution will help us address the challenges manufacturing faces. A few things stand out as being important however: the perception of manufacturing, the need for a variety of educational approaches, and investment in automation.
It will be challenging for the nation to achieve a true appreciation and understanding of manufacturing and engineering while pervasive misperceptions persist. As industrial business owners, engineers and supporters, we have a responsibility to challenge these perceptions and promote the true image, one which is a far cry from the dark, dangerous and dirty stereotype.
The Manufacturer has published a useful ‘myth busting guide’ to help in that regard.
I also wonder if there are things that manufacturers can learn from other sectors when it comes to appealing to new entrants to the job market? What approaches do businesses in the tech and digital sectors take to attract the brightest and the best?
Despite the slightly disappointing national statistics that came out earlier this year looking at apprenticeship utilisation in the 12 months since the Apprenticeship Levy was first introduced, they still remain an important opportunity to help manufacturers address the skills gap. The ambition of the Levy: to enable British businesses to access the skilled and knowledgeable workforce they need to grow and take advantage of the great opportunities that lie before them, while simultaneously enabling people of all ages to undertake the vocational training necessary to secure well-paid jobs now and in the future, is sound. We’ve seen some clients build phenomenal apprenticeship programmes over recent years, but there is considerable scope for this to grow and be replicated across more businesses. Hopefully events like Bradford Manufacturing Week will help showcase best practice and empower more manufacturers to design schemes that help fulfil their skills needs and offer viable career opportunities to the next generation.
Additionally, the move towards T-levels will be important. First proposed in 2016, the introduction of T-levels aims to address the current perceived disparity between academic and vocational education. Under the proposals, 16-19-year olds will be offered easier access to 15 different industries via technical (T) qualifications.
The content will be based on newly created standards developed by appointed panels of industry professionals and employers, ensuring the skills being developed are relevant, in demand and – to some extent – ‘future proof’.
The first three – Digital, Construction, and Education & Childcare – were announced in October 2017, and will be offered from September 2019. Every T-level is expected to be in place by September 2022, including an Engineering & Manufacturing pathway.
Changing societal perceptions and overhauling our education system are worthwhile endeavours, but will take time to achieve. With global competition rising and growth opportunities waiting to be capitalised on, UK manufacturers can’t afford to wait.
Could automating some non-value add, low-skilled processes simultaneously raise your productivity, allow your employees to upskill or retrain, and strengthen the reality of UK manufacturing as being a modern, hi-tech and rewarding sector to work in? More and more firms we work with see this as within their control and are investing in automation.
Inspiring the next generation of designers, engineers and makers is of paramount importance. Bradford Manufacturing week is an excellent initiative which will help raise awareness of the challenges we face, but also of the fantastic career opportunities that manufacturing can offer to our young people.