The next generation 

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With a shortfall in engineering graduates on our hands, Vinnie Edge, international operations manager at engineering solutions provider, Boulting Ltd, explores what can be done to secure the future of engineering. 

The 2018 Engineering UK State of Engineering report states that the engineering industry employs over 5.6 million people in the UK. However, the report also highlights an annual shortfall of up to 59,000 engineering graduates and technicians to fill core engineering roles.  

The report commented that 39% of engineering employers in the UK struggle to find candidates with any workplace experience and with the aforementioned reported shortfall, it is clear to see why. The ongoing and growing skills gap across the industry could lead to this figure increasing over the coming years, particularly in heavy industry sectors, such as mining, steel and chemical. 

Throughout the 1990s, there was a big focus on emerging IT and dot-com technologies. This resulted in an influx of graduates with skills in these areas, yet it also means that more traditional, heavy industry and blue-chip companies are now struggling to recruit.

To combat this, everyone must work together. The government, educators and those across the industry must all make an effort to attract new talent into the shrinking sector. By promoting and expanding the opportunities for personal development and job satisfaction, just like the initiatives seen recently to attract more teachers into the profession, students and graduates may be more likely to pursue a career in engineering. 

Regardless of whether the skills gap is addressed, meaning employees can recruit more staff to the sector, it is already clear that the future role of the engineer will be significantly different to what it is today. 

Technology trends

While the developments in technology will have an impact on the engineering industry as a whole, it is inevitable that these changes will also impact the role of the engineer, particularly over the next five to 10 years. Engineers will become more interdisciplinary, with skills spanning multiple sectors becoming the expected standard for many employers. 

For instance, the rise of remote monitoring and working will mean that engineering teams will be able to work closely across multiple nations while having access to an increased level of information and data from the projects they are working on. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology will also mean that expert teams won’t need to travel to their project site, as instructions can be provided to on-site staff to complete more complex tasks with remote support and guidance. 

Engineering is a diverse industry that is investing in Industry 4.0 technology to help combat industry challenges. Some of these applications build upon existing consumer technologies, for example the introduction of tablets and mobile devices as a method of on-the-go tracking and monitoring is changing the way industry manages its people and facilities. 

The apprentice advantage

Despite these advancements in the ease of information gathering, and the insight and understanding of data and knowledge sharing opportunities that are possible across nations, there is still the issue of attracting new employees to the industry in the first place.

More focus should be given on the value of apprenticeship schemes and the opportunities they provide to both employee and employer. Apprenticeships allow new recruits to the industry to try their hand at a multitude of skills and potentially across a wider scope of engineering fields. The opportunities to increase the breadth of experience gained in an apprenticeship is only set to grow further as industries like nuclear and renewable energies continue to receive investment. 

Apprenticeships also allow the employer to instil skills and knowledge to their potential permanent recruit from the start of their development. By incorporating them directly into the business, employers can mould the recruit to complete tasks and learn the key skills for their specific industry. 

For example, Boulting Ltd has a dedicated apprenticeship, graduate and trainee scheme which provides the opportunity to work alongside experienced engineers to unleash talent in technically stimulating environments across a wide range of engineering services, industries and sectors. 

Driven by desire

Engaging with students at high school and college level, incorporating them into your business through apprenticeships and work placement programmes has the potential to be meaningful. If your entry level recruits have a desire to learn and have a vision to progress, get them involved in projects and tasks that will harness that enthusiasm. 

This involvement can help showcase exactly how diverse the industry is and the broad spectrum of interesting projects and fields that are available to the engineer of tomorrow. Engineering is one of the world’s true professions and the opportunity to progress and advance in the industry throughout your career is exciting. 

The time is now to buck the trend of skilled engineer shortfalls and those already in the industry must support and inspire the next generation of engineers to keep the profession alive.