Filling the Gap: Solutions for Addressing the UK’s Engineering Skill Shortage

It has become impossible to ignore the ever-growing skills shortage within the UK engineering sector. Engineering specialisms are so broad which could be a worry for the long-term, especially when a CNC machining company and other specialist engineering practices desperately need to fill open roles, to cope with demand. There is evidence that half of new engineering company recruits in the UK lack the correct skill level to succeed in the industry. This suggests there is a lack of appropriate training infrastructure and an inefficient onboarding process into engineering careers. The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) released the study information and expressed its concern that the crisis in skills in the UK will only end if the industry and government come together to act.

Assessing potential solutions to the UK engineering skills shortage

One of the solutions to create and introduce more skilled workers to the engineering industry is to look at apprenticeships. There has been a decline in the number of apprenticeships in the UK over the last few years, especially in engineering, technology and manufacturing.

There was a call for evidence as part of inquiry into the reasons behind falling apprenticeship numbers, which ran until the end of February 2023. This asked for ideas from the sector in how to improve the situation, covering the opportunities available, the state of play, the barriers currently present to candidates, and the proposed solutions. As there is an urgent need to find a solution to the skills shortage, and that apprenticeships provide such a great opportunity to shorten this gap, there is hope that the industry and the government can come together with this evidence to find the right solution moving forward. It will be fantastic to see a surge of new apprenticeship schemes offered and a influx of junior and skilled engineers.

The benefits of apprenticeships and how they can fill the gap

The news of a skills shortage might be bad in the short term for the UK engineering sector, but it could be good news for those who wish to take on apprenticeship roles in that area. Businesses struggling with the skills shortage will be more likely to look at filling roles with apprentices, training them up with expert inhouse training. The hope is through proper nurture and retention, in the long run the UK can expect to see a compound effect of engineering talent across the board.

What are the benefits of hiring apprentices?

A cost-effective solution

Recruitment can be costly for a business, especially when there are so few highly skilled and experienced workers in the sector at the moment. This issue results in a hugely competitive hiring arena where many sort after engineers will be presented with arguably inflated salaries and company perks. Although this is great for engineers themselves, the issue is that it is not sustainable and still causes stunted growth and challenged for smaller firms. On the other hand hiring an apprentice is a cost-effective solution for all sized businesses as it is a good way to train up a young person first starting out in the field.

Bespoke training for industry needs

The engineering sector is diverse and made up with many specialisms. This means each firm will have its own specific needs and an apprentice provides the opportunity to train someone up with specialist knowledge and skillsets, alongside the apprentice achieving a good stead for any role within the industry as their career progresses.

A shift in attitude towards education and employment

There has been a shift in how young people see higher education in recent years as it is becoming harder for graduates to find work that makes sense following the rise in tuition fees over the last decade. The increasing challenge of gaining an ROI on further education makes apprenticeship schemes more attractive to those younger people who are choosing between heading to university or learning a trade through an apprenticeship. Apprenticeships allow students to learn and earn whilst avoiding university debts. There is also an argument that a steady apprenticeship scheme mixed with a strong work ethic gives a student a higher chance of obtaining full time employment in contrast to those graduating fighting for extremely competitive graduate roles.

Opportunities for female engineers

Alongside the skills shortage there has also been a gap between the numbers of male and female engineers and an apprenticeship scheme provides a greater opportunity than ever before for more women to get into the sector. As of 2021 it was estimated that only 16.5% of the engineering workforce was made up of women. This presents a real opportunity to focus on introducing competitive engineering opportunities with the hope of growing the female percentage of female engineers. Success of this can be commonly seen in Norway where the split is closer to 50/50.

An ‘urgent open letter to the government’

Back in 2021 150 leaders from the world of engineering published an open letter to the government asking for an introduction to engineering to be introduced to schools. The idea is to help tackle the skills shortage within the engineering sector in the UK. If engineering was embedded within the curriculum from a young age, it would be more likely to translate to greater levels of interest in the sector when children become older and begin to look at potential career avenues.

The process of recruiting engineers

Engineering recruitment companies also play an important role in ensuring the future of engineering skills in the UK continues to improve and that the skills shortage is addressed. There are a few ways in which the entire process can be changed to help bring through greater numbers of young, skilled, engineering recruits.

Investment in excellence

The University of Central Lancashire in Preston has already opened a state of the art Engineering & Innovation centre, costing £35million, and it is this approach which could help the sector to thrive again. The centre provides tailored courses that will help to bridge the gaps currently present, providing the right type of skills.

Look at diversity within the industry

The numbers of engineers in the UK that are from minority backgrounds, and the number of women, is low. To tackle the shortfall in skilled workers, UK employers must look to rectify this by creating flexible working environments that are welcoming to all.

Effective graduate schemes

Alongside apprenticeships, there does need to be a shift in how effective graduate schemes are within the engineering sector in the UK. Once you are qualified you need to know that you can get your foot in the door with a range of engineering companies, including those right at the top of the industry.

There are a few ways in which a precision engineering company and the rest of the engineering sector in the UK can begin to address the shortfall of skilled workers. It will take a unified response from government, businesses, and education to make it work though, with apprenticeship schemes one of the most effective ways to shift the focus over the coming years.