5 March, 2024

How industry can attract young engineers to tackle the engineering skills shortage

29 August, 2023

Martyn Williams, managing director of COPA-DATA UK, explains how industry can help to tackle theskills shortage in the sector, with just a little influencing required.

According to new research, one in five British teenagers aspire for a career as a social media influencer. The field of engineering is currently far less popular among young people. A study by Engineering UK demonstrated that 11 to 19-year-olds have a negative perception of the engineering field, presuming the industry is “difficult, complicated and dirty.” In fact, nearly half of this age group stated that they knew very little about what engineers actually do.

The failure of engineering companies to attract young recruits is a real issue across industry and has a few contributing factors. One is geography. Because industrial jobs are no longer in economic centres for communities, young adults — from the North of England, South Wales or the Midlands for example — want to flock to London.

Another issue is that, of the young people who are interested in STEM careers, many have been misled that jobs in these fields are more closely aligned with Elon Musk than Frank Whittle, James Dyson or Ada Lovelace. None of whom, at least to my knowledge, boasted of ping pong tables and free beer Fridays in the office.

Many of today’s STEM graduates would rather work for a company like Google that they perceive as modern, clean and exciting, than in a more traditional engineering field. This is particularly prevalent in fields that are perceived as difficult, complicated and dirty, such as in oil and gas, as cited in EngineeringUK’s research.

These trends are also reflected in education. The low value placed on teaching traditional engineering skills has been an issue for a long-time. Educational establishments generally favour engineering courses relating to software or web development. What’s more, some are actually running courses on how to become social media influencers.

The result is an over-abundance of wannabe influencers and, in the engineering field, newly-qualified programmers with underused degrees in software or computer science. This is a stark contrast to the availability of graduates with traditional engineering skills. Recruiter Sterling Choice reports that the drastic lack of new skilled workers has led to increased recruitment, training and temporary staff costs, adding up to £1.5bn a year in the UK.

Social causes

So, what can manufacturers do to reverse these trends and attract more young people to the engineering industry? For a start, there needs to be greater collaboration between businesses and education. Experienced C-Level engineers could be doing a lot more to enter education establishments and teach young people about the benefits of careers in engineering. I’m taking part in the STEM Ambassador program for this very reason.

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