Industry, educators and government must work together to ensure we have the skilled engineers our economy needs

Posted On: 
11th December 2017

Chief Executive of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Nigel Fine calls on industry, educators and the Government to come together with the IET to boost engineering skills and productivity in the UK.

"Now that the UK is in the process of leaving the EU, it is critical that government works more closely with educators and industry on a long-term plan" - Nigel Fine, Chief Executive of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)
Credit: 
PA

The Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) annual Skills and Demand in Industry report was published this week against the backdrop of the launch of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, working to increase productivity and bring unprecedented change to the UK’s economic landscape. Skills are core to the success of a dynamic, modern economy. The survey highlights the views of 800 engineering employers in the UK, who tell us that the lack of engineering skills is a huge problem. The sector is buoyant with high value jobs being created by digitisation and automation. 

However, almost two thirds of these employers (61%) consider the recruitment of engineering and technical staff with the right skills the biggest barrier to achieving business objectives. With the concern around skills supply showing no signs of going away, and Brexit potentially compounding the problem, it is critical that as a country we take action now. 

The majority of employers agree that tackling the skills problem is fundamental to making the Government’s Industrial Strategy viable. We must work in partnership with business, academia and government to build a pipeline of the next generation of engineers. In order to deliver on this skills challenge we must ensure we have enough people with the practical and technical skills required by industry, and recruit widely from a diverse pool of potential talent. 

Now that the UK is in the process of leaving the EU, it is critical that government works more closely with educators and industry on a long-term plan. This should focus on developing UK engineering expertise, while retaining non-UK workers who have the competencies needed by engineering businesses as Brexit comes into effect. A key area of focus must be building a flexible and agile workforce through Continuing Professional Development (CPD) opportunities. Businesses recognise the impact that Industry 4.0 (the implementation of cyber-physical systems, Big Data and the Internet of Things) will have in the short term, but many tell us that they are not prepared.

Establishing and maintaining a solid CPD framework should be a top priority to ensure the current and future workforce has the right skills and capability. To improve work-readiness in new recruits, it is urgent that employers are supported to work with schools and colleges to provide more work experience opportunities for young people. We need more engineers, so it is vital we tap in to people from all backgrounds. Currently, many are under-represented in UK engineering. The vast majority of employers surveyed this year have not introduced gender, BAME or LGBT initiatives. The cross-government Year of Engineering campaign in 2018 will be an ideal way of celebrating the amazing contribution that engineering makes to society, and encourage young people to join the profession. 

The IET is delighted to be supporting the campaign to highlight the creative and rewarding world of engineering. The majority of businesses and educators recognise that they need to do more to boost engineering skills, but not all are aware of the best approach. This is exactly where the IET can offer assistance, from its programmes in schools through to supporting business upskilling staff. We are calling on parliamentarians to make a pledge that they will play their role as an engineering skills activist. For example, parliamentarians can connect local schools, colleges and businesses. 

Employers can offer work experience to young people and get involved in programmes to build enthusiasm for engineering as a career. The education profession can help teachers understand the opportunities and value of engineering through industrial experience, and convey that excitement to children. Together, we can really make a difference and ensure we have more engineers with the right skills and capabilities to do the jobs which are being created and ensure our economy continues to flourish as we embrace Industry 4.0. You can get involved and join our pledge. Please share your ideas with us on social media using the hashtag #IETskills

For more information, visit www.theiet.org/skills

This article first appeared in the House Magazine alongside an article by Norman Lamb MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee.