STEM Matters: IET survey highlights ongoing threat STEM skills gap poses to UK business...

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

04 December 2019

IET Skills Survey 2019 cover image

As I prepped this month’s column, the IET (Institution of Engineering & Technology) launched its 2019 skills report, the ‘IET Skills & Demand in Industry Survey’ – the 13th year that it has published the report.

This column was originally featured in the December 2019 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

This year’s report is based on research commissioned by the IET and conducted by market research agency, BMG Research – comprising of extended telephone interviews with 701 engineering and technology employers across the UK in April, May and June 2019. Not surprisingly, the report confirms that the skills gap in engineering remains an ongoing concern for engineering and technology companies across the UK...

As the report sets out, the UK engineering sector remains at the heart of UK industry. According to Engineering UK’s ‘State of Enginering 2018’ report, engineering organisations generate more than £420 billion of UK Gross Value Added – and engineers make up 19% of the UK workforce. And yet, engineering in the UK is in a precarious position. There is an estimated annual shortfall of 59,000 new engineering graduates and technicians, a deficit which only continues to get worse. This report confirms the challenge – but also sheds light on ways that the industry can work together to avert the looming engineering crisis. 

The report highlights that demand for engineers continues to rise, but that 60% of employers report recruitment of engineering and technical staff with the right skills is the biggest anticipated barrier to achieving their business objectives over the next three years. Nearly half (48%) report difficulties finding the skills they need in the external labour market when trying to recruit, with only 20% expecting the supply of engineering and technical skills into industry to improve over the next 3-5 years. And worryingly, more than half (53%) are concerned that a shortage of engineers in the UK is a threat to their business.

From a positive perspective, almost one in three employers (31%) said they have expanded their engineering and technology workforce over the last three years – and slightly fewer companies now have internal skills gaps than two years ago (22%, compared to 25% in 2017). However, those companies with gaps have seen them widen across the board, from apprentices and trainees through to fully-qualified professionals. 48% report gaps in the skills of their apprentices or other young trainees – which is up from 30% in 2017.

The supply or quality of young people entering the industry is a key concern, as well as their workplace skills. 73% of employers that have experienced a shortage of skills in the external labour market reported problems with candidates who have academic knowledge, but not the required workplace skills.

Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT

To address these growing concerns over the skills gaps and limitations in the engineering workforce, 81% agree that businesses have a responsibility to support the transition from education and training into the workplace – but shockingly, only 23% of employers are going into schools or careers events to help young people understand and value engineering careers. In terms of technical and vocational routes, only 28% of employers are aware that the new T Level qualifications require students to undertake work experience. And while 59% of employers state that they have the capacity to offer work experience as part of T Levels, only 43% say they intend to offer it.

Encouragingly, the majority of companies that are liable to pay the Apprenticeship Levy report that they are using it, with nearly half of these reporting that it is easy to use (48%). 32% of companies surveyed have engineering or technical apprentices in place, with an average of between two and three apprentices at each participating company.

But worryingly, the proportion of women within the engineering and technical workforce remains at 11%. And only one in 10 businesses (12%) are taking or have taken any action to increase the diversity of their engineering, IT and technical workforces in terms of ethnicity, LGBT+ status and disability.

To meet the UK’s increasing engineering and technology skills needs, and to counter skills shortages and gaps, education, industry and government need to work together on joined up approaches at strategic, tactical and local levels. The report makes key recommendations across four key areas:

• The skills challenge – employers to provide more apprenticeship opportunities, T Level work placements and other work experience opportunities, to help improve potential recruits’ workplace readiness and employability, working with education partners to ensure fitness for purpose, and engaging under-represented groups to improve diversity.

• T Levels & vocational/technical training – Government to raise awareness and take-up of T Levels as a valued, attractive qualification, equivalent to A Levels.

• The Apprenticeship Levy – Government to give employers greater flexibility on spending for skills development, relaxing apprenticeship levy restrictions and supporting alternative, high-quality training options.

• Employer approaches to training, upskilling & reskilling – employers to formally adopt ongoing workforce development and upskilling initiatives as a means of enhancing competitive advantage and commercial success.


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