Why Britain Needs Home Grown Engineers
Engineering is essential to our everyday lives. From the mobile phones and computers we simply cannot live without to the cars, trains and planes we use to get around, engineering makes the world go round. Engineering is also crucial to the strength of Britain’s economy, contributing over £1.06 trillion annually. It may therefore be hard to believe that qualified engineers represent only 1.2 per cent of the country’s workforce and assuming this proportion remains unchanged, Britain will face a shortfall of almost 37,000 trained engineers by the year 2050. Skills shortages, a restrictive migration policy and an ageing workforce are amongst the many reasons for this shortfall.
The British engineering sector has certainly had to contend with a significant demand for talented graduates from overseas of late. Since 2007, the number of people leaving the country to find work has risen by 16 per cent. Brazil has been successful in drawing engineering graduates away from Britain to work on the large-scale infrastructure projects associated with the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games while New Zealand has been fleecing graduates to help out with its earthquake reconstruction plans. While the number of people leaving the country may have increased, the number of people entering the country to find work has fallen by 24 per cent. Poor economic performance and immigration policy changes are amongst the many reasons why the country has failed to attract some of the world’s most talented engineering graduates.
An ageing workforce is also contributing to the demand for engineering graduates, with the sector set to face significant levels of retirement over the next decade or two. While companies such as EDF are planning to invest heavily in low-carbon nuclear energy generation over next 10 to 15 years, around 70 per cent of nuclear workforce will have taken their retirement by 2025 and a lack of younger workers may put even the most modest of plans in jeopardy.
According to EngineeringUK, the Government must take action to double the number of young people studying physics at GCSE in order to increase the number of students who choose to study physics at A level. The company has also stressed the need for schools to provide robust and consistent careers advice to young people who show an interest in entering into engineering. Evidence has shown that the engineering community’s efforts to attract young people into engineering are having an impact. Initiatives such as The Big Bang Fair and Tomorrow’s Engineers have contributed to a four-fold increase in the number of 12-16 year olds who consider engineering to be a desirable career choice. Meanwhile, the corporate-run Talent Retention Scheme, which was originally designed to help experienced engineers taking leave from the defence sector to find alternative employment, has been so successful that it is set to be extended to students.
While the Government is currently looking at ways to assist prospective engineers at all levels, from improving engagement in educational establishments to providing financial incentives to those who enter into apprenticeships and postgraduate training, it must continue to work with businesses, professional bodies and educational establishments to ensure that Britain is able to meet demand. Engineering is central to the UK’s economic progress, so it is crucial to plug the employment gap before it is too late.