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The engineering sector is vital to the UK economy. It represents a fifth of the total gross value added in the UK. Nevertheless, anyone who works in the industry, as well as engineering recruitment agencies recognises that, at the moment, there is a substantial skills shortage, and it is a big concern. Statistics have shown that a minimum of 182,000 individuals with engineering skills are going to be needed every year from 2022. Therefore, it is critical that solutions are found to plug the engineering skills gap, and this must start with apprenticeships and getting more people on board with such programs. Here, we offer insight into the apprenticeship skills gap within engineering and how this is having an impact on businesses when recruiting.

Key facts regarding the state of engineering

  • 27% of enterprises in the United Kingdom are engineering-related
  • There exists an annual shortfall of up to 59,000 engineering technicians and graduates
  • 46% of engineering employers have experienced recruitment difficulties
  • Just 27% of 11 to 14-year-olds understand what engineers do

Outline of the key challenges in the engineering sector

  • Too little understanding of apprenticeships
  • Too little homegrown talent
  • Too few women becoming engineers
  • Limited access to STEM careers activity
  • Too few STEM teachers

The disconnect

There is no denying that apprenticeships have the power to make up for the current skills shortage we are experiencing in this sector. However, one of the main issues is that there is a disconnect when it comes to schools and employers. Employers have widely commented that graduates and school levels are not ready for work when they finish their education. On the flip side, those involved in education believe that information regarding vocational opportunities is not readily available to them. This disconnect needs to be overcome if the apprenticeship skill shortage is going to be resolved. Young people need to be shown that engineering apprenticeships are rewarding and interesting, and that they are just as valid as any other attempt to get your foot on the ladder in this sector. Apprenticeships are not being promoted in schools as a valid route into a career, whereas higher education is heavily pushed. 

Experts in the industry have commented on the fact that the engineering skills gap is being driven by apprenticeship ignorance. This is something that the chief executive of Engineering UK, Mark Titterington, has commented on. He has stated that together with the government, they need to make sure that the apprenticeships provided are of a high quality on a consistent basis, and that they are open and attractive to a diverse selection of young people. He noted that it is especially important that these positions are advertised to girls. His report, from which the statistics above have been taken from, has shown that while there has been a dedicated effort to encourage an uptake in apprenticeships, there is clearly a real problem in terms of people not knowing about apprenticeships and the different sorts of apprenticeships on offer. There is also a real issue when it comes to students understanding what an engineer does and that apprenticeships are a valid route.

Appealing to young talent

This is something that is at the core of fixing the engineering skills gap, as it involves bridging the gap at the apprenticeship level, which is where a lot of the problem lies. There is clearly more that can be done in order to encourage students leaving school to go into engineering. Moreover, there is a clear mismatch when it comes to the UK’s education system and the skills that are required once engineering candidates enter the job market. Rather than engineering being promoted once children enter sixth form, there is a strong argument that it should be encouraged from an earlier age, for example, in secondary school or even during primary school.

Shaking outdated stereotypes

As you can see from the statistics presented above, another real problem within engineering recruitment is that this is largely viewed as a career for men. In fact, 40 per cent of engineers have stated that they believe gender stereotypes are reinforced through advertised roles in this industry. More can be done to ensure that engineering is marketed as a career that is available to everyone. Engineering roles and apprenticeships need to be marketed to females so that more women end up working in this industry.

Some of the things recruiters are doing to try and plug the skills gap:

Engineering recruitment agencies are working hard to encourage engineering businesses to make their job roles more enticing for candidates. A lot of people believe that engineering jobs are attractive because the work is interesting and the pay is good. While there is no denying that the pay does appeal, there are other factors that are being valued greatly by candidates today. This includes progression prospects, job security, and work variety. Recruiters are using this to make their job descriptions more attractive so that they can appeal to the restricted talent pool that is out there at the moment. Many businesses in the sector have also stated that they do not believe re-skilling for engineering jobs is difficult, and so it is certainly worth focusing on this as another strategy for plugging the skills gap. This has been backed up by statistics. After all, one-fifth of the current candidates in the engineering sector have reskilled from other jobs into their existing roles.

All things considered, there is no denying that there is a real problem when it comes to the apprenticeship skills gap in the engineering sector. A dedicated effort is required if the industry is to meet the demand for engineering professionals that is predicted within the next three years. However, as you can see, there are a number of steps that are being taken across training and recruitment to ensure that this difficult task is tackled. Is it enough to plug the gap? Only time will tell. In the meantime, as an Engineering recruitment agency, Nolan Recruitment will continue to source the best candidates for positions within the industry, from apprentice level up.