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Student work experience is solution to engineering skills gap

21 September 2016

The Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) new report reveals pessimism around impact of Brexit on engineering sector.

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62 percent of engineering employers say graduates don’t have the right skills for today’s workplace, while 68 percent are concerned that the education system will struggle to keep up with the skills required for technological change, according to the 2016 Skills and Demand in Industry report, published by the (IET). When asked about the impact of Brexit on their recruitment plans 40 percent of those surveyed believe that their recruitment will be negatively impacted over the next four to five years now that Britain is to leave the EU.

To address these growing concerns over skills gaps in the engineering workforce, particularly among graduates and school leavers, 91 percent of companies agreed that to improve the supply of engineers and technicians, more employers need to provide work experience for those in education or training.  

In response, the IET is launching a new campaign: ‘Engineering Work Experience for All’ to champion the need for more employers and universities to collaborate to offer quality work experience to engineering students. The campaign is designed to rally employers, universities, Government and students to make a range of different, quality work experience opportunities more widespread.

This is the eleventh year that the IET has published its skills report, based on extended telephone interviews with over 400 engineering employers across the UK. While there is some optimism from employers about being able to recruit the engineers they need, concerns about skills gaps and diversity issues, the role of education, and a lack of experienced engineering staff all come under the spotlight. 

Findings include:

Education, employment and skills gaps
• 52 percent of employers are currently seeking new engineering and technology recruits 
• 57 percent are currently, or have recently, experienced problems recruiting senior engineers with 5-10 years’ experience 
• 50 percent find that a typical new engineering and technology recruit does not meet their reasonable expectations

Engineering work experience
• 76 percent of employers agree that compelling all engineering and technology companies to provide work experience would improve the pool of engineering talent
• 53 percent don’t know how the apprentice levy can benefit their organisation

Diversity and inclusion
• 9 percent of the UK engineering and technology workforce are female
• 63 percent of businesses don’t have gender diversity initiatives in place (increased from 57 percent in 2015)
• 73 percent don’t have LGBT or ethnic diversity initiatives in place
• 40 percent of employers agree that their organisation could do more to recruit people from diverse backgrounds

Naomi Climer, IET President, said “demand for engineers is high but the report reveals deeper concern than ever around the skills and experience of our future workforce.

“As we are facing an engineering shortfall in the next decade and some uncertainty around skills following Brexit, it is more important than ever that we develop the next generation of ‘home grown’ engineering and technology talent.

“One of the biggest challenges appears to be recruiting candidates with the right practical skills, which is why the IET is launching a new campaign to highlight the benefits of employers offering quality work experience to engineering students. Employers and educators must continue to strengthen their working relationships to ensure that the work experience they offer is designed with the skills gaps in mind.

“We also want to draw attention to the importance of continuing professional development in a world where technology is changing fast – and of having clear plans to create a more diverse workforce.” 

Quotes from engineering employers:

Huw Williams, Production Engineering Director at SPTS Technologies says:
“There is certainly more that could be done between businesses and schools to ensure young people are work-ready. You have to look at the right solution for the right company. I think the combination of the apprenticeships scheme and university scheme we participate in (Network75) has been very beneficial for the company. You can’t expect people straight out of education to be ready for the workplace, particularly when you bring in someone at the age of 15/16. You could mandate work experience but that would only work if it is a big enough firm – not every small business is in the position to give the right type of experience.”

Andy Taylor, Chief Engineer – Mechanical at Amec Foster Wheeler says:
“In terms of getting the right people, I think that largely companies should help themselves. Education institutions should seek more help from business. They should get people like me to go into college and lecture on the application of what they are learning and the practical stuff which makes up the job. This will help narrow the gap between practice and theory.”

Lindsay MacDonald, Senior Manager for Engineering and Technology at Proserv says:
“More is required to expose young people to engineering as a profession. Practical experience is also lacking in graduates – in the past we have been very supportive of engaging with academia to give employment opportunities, but in recent times, the type of courses/skills have shifted focus and we have struggled to see what we could offer. We would be supportive of a mandatory requirement as there are a multitude of engineering companies who do not support these initiatives but have the clout to financially attract key engineers once they have been trained/gained experience elsewhere.”



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