Engineers fear schools will fall behind change

Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) chief executive Nigel Fine
Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) chief executive Nigel Fine
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The engineering sector has warned the UK’s education system is unlikely to keep up with its needs as technology continues to change.

Research from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) found two-thirds of firms are concerned that schools and universities will fail to adequately train future engineers.

The latest skills report from the organisation - which has 7,563 members in Yorkshire - found six out of 10 engineering businesses are already dissatisfied with the quality of skills among graduates.

Demand for trained engineers continues to grow, as competition from foreign competitors and a widening skills gap impacts the sector.

According to Engineering UK, the industry needs to recruit 1.82 million engineers in the 10 years to 2022.

But as demand continues to rise, 53 per cent of employers told the IET they are struggling to recruit suitably skilled staff.

Almost two-thirds (64 per cent) said this shortage presents a threat to their business.

Seven in 10 (68 per cent) of firms said finding senior engineers with five to 10 years’ experience was most challenging, while more than half (53 per cent) said Government schemes for apprenticeships were complex.

The IET’s 10th Skills and Demand in Industry report also highlighted a continued lack of diversity in engineering.

Almost six out of 10 (57 per cent) of employers do not have gender diversity initiatives in place, while three-quarters of businesses also do not have LGBT or ethnic diversity policies.

Nigel Fine, chief executive at the IET, said: “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.

“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.”

Sheila Brown, director at South Midlands Communications, said it will be down to schooleavers to fill the productivity gap in manufacturing after “a whole generation focused too much on the service industry”.

Keith Joughlin, technical engineering services manager at Tata Steel Long Products, said the organisation is “not convinced” universities are focused on preparing students for the workplace.

He said: “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.

“Universities appear to be more research-focused - as a revenue stream - rather than concentrating on the primary teaching function.”

While employers urged more action at school and university level, job losses in the UK steel industry highlight the competition pressures on certain sectors of manufacturing in the UK.

Yesterday, Tata Steel announced almost 1,200 job are to go in Scunthorpe and Lanarkshire, citing the ‘dumping’ of cheap materials from China into Europe as damaging demand.