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IET report reveals bleak skills landscape

21 October 2015

Engineering employers responding to an IET survey are predicting that the education system will not keep up with technological change.

Demand for engineers continues to rise but over half (53 percent) of employers are struggling to recruit suitably skilled staff, according to the 2015 Skills & Demand in Industry report.

Launched at an event in Parliament on Wednesday October 21 by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), the report reveals that 61 percent of employers are least satisfied with skills among graduates – and that two thirds (66 percent) are concerned that the education system will struggle to keep up with the skills required for technological change.

The report also highlights that while over half (53 percent) of employers say they are recruiting engineering staff this year, 64 percent claim a shortage of engineers in the UK is a threat to their business.

This is the tenth year that the IET has published its skills report and the role of education comes under the spotlight, together with ongoing diversity issues in engineering and a lack of both available graduates and more experienced engineering staff.

Women account for only 9 percent of the UK engineering workforce – and yet 57 percent of employers do not have gender diversity initiatives in place. Other findings include:

69 percent of employers recruiting graduates report a lack of available graduates
68 percent are having most difficulty recruiting senior engineers with five to ten years’ experience
75 percent do not have LGBT/ ethnic diversity initiatives in place
53 percent feel that Government initiatives for recruiting apprentices are not straightforward
94 percent recognise they have a responsibility to support employee transition to the workplace

“Demand for engineers in the UK remains high, with supply unable to keep pace – and employers continuing to highlight skills shortages as a major concern," says IET chief executive, Nigel Fine.
“Stronger and deeper collaboration between employers and academic institutions is needed to agree practical steps to ensure that young people are suitably prepared both academically and practically before they start work.

"Supporting and encouraging teachers and academics to spend time in industry – and employers to visit schools, colleges and universities – would also be hugely beneficial.

“Employers also need to recognise the need for workforce diversity and do more to attract recruits from a wider talent pool. This might include looking at other professions, such as medicine and accountancy that have been more successful at attracting a diverse workforce. It also means working with parents and teachers to promote engineering as a creative, rewarding and exciting profession for girls, as well as boys.”

What the engineering employers are saying
Sheila Brown, a director at South Midlands Communications says a whole generation has focused too much on the service industry instead of manufacturing, and now productivity, which has led to a gap that the next generation of school leavers need to fill. On the subject of graduate recruits, she and her colleagues are not convinced that universities are focused on preparing their students for the workplace.

"They have become funding-driven, not outcome-driven, and seem to have lost the will to link the teaching of STEM subjects to industry requirements," she says. "Universities appear to be more research-focused (as a revenue stream) rather than concentrating on the primary teaching function. 

"In electrical engineering, we have noticed a trend towards focusing on electronics rather than power engineering – is this because it is ‘cheap’ to provide students with printed circuit boards and a box full of resistors and capacitors, rather than need to give practical experience on large motors, generators and switchgear?”

“Primary and secondary education, and our broader culture, do not place a strong emphasis on practical engineering questions, and my perception is that 90 percent plus of teachers have only the flimsiest grasp of what engineering really is," says Kevin Payne, sponsor, Electrical Engineering Graduate Training, London Underground. “There is a crying need to pump really constructive, positive messages about engineering at multiple levels, to get strong role models in front of children, and to inculcate in children the joy of taking things to pieces to find out how they really work.”

Graham Pearl, engineering director at dB Broadcast, admits he would like to see more women in his business. “We approach recruitment with an open mind and we would love to see more females in our industry. Technology-based courses do not appear to be favoured by females. We recently had one female applicant for our graduate positions out of 50 applicants – this is an industry-wide issue and in the niche broadcast technology sector it is completely male dominated.”

The The 2015 Skills & Demand in Industry report can be downloaded here.

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