Modern day engineering companies face a unique challenge when looking at the possibility of expansion. With a pronounced skills gap in the UK’s manufacturing sector, many find that the process of sourcing and recruiting technical staff is something of a headache. Whilst working in the membership team, I would speak with subcontract engineering companies encountering this problem almost daily; it wasn’t a lack of work preventing them from growth, rather a lack of technically-versed candidates within the recruitment pool.
In fact, according to the 2016 Hays Global Skills Index, this is a worsening problem. Findings conclude that the UK skills gap has widened by 8% in just five years, leading many to ponder the consequences if it is allowed to grow any further. With self-remedy becoming an increasingly unlikely scenario, what can be done to ensure that the UK’s manufacturing industry prospers in the hands of the next generation?
Whilst it is the government that ultimately holds responsibility for incentivising the appropriate courses, perhaps we as an industry should look at doing our own part to self-preserve, by promoting engineering as a potential career choice to emerging school leavers and even full-time students. With apprenticeships on the rise, it seems that many more are choosing a more vocational route into their chosen field, but how can we make engineering the desired field in the first place?
Kew House School – situated in Brentford – are offering their students an opportunity to utilise their budding engineering skills from a practical perspective, by assisting with the build of their Formula 24 race car. The Formula 24 club, which started at the school in 2015, has brought a fresh approach to extra-curricular activities, reflecting the changes in the modern technological world and giving engineering in itself a platform as a career choice consideration further down the line.
Formula 24 requires its members to design, build and race an electric powered car, whilst adhering to a stringent set of technical regulations. Students aged between eleven and sixteen work together to produce a vehicle that will outperform those designed by their peers, over the course of two ninety minute races held on both a regional and international level.
To qualify, all entries must run on one 24 volt electric motor and two 12 volt batteries, creating an even playing field for all teams, as well as encouraging participants to find creative solutions in order to meet their objective. There are a number of strict parameters surrounding the overall size of the vehicle and the functionality of its components, including safety features, wheels, seating, bodywork and brakes.
Kew House School’s approach is a novel one and indeed, it is interesting to consider the representation of other career choices within standard school subjects compared to that of engineering. So, you want to be an accountant? Great, pay particular attention during maths. A doctor? Then you need to make sure that you exceed within the sciences. But how are students to consider engineering as a career, if there are no standard curriculum subjects which allow them to test the water? Is this the reason that engineering is so under-populated when it comes to chosen career paths?
The Hays Global Skills Index also revealed that the skills gap has grown by 14% in five years across Europe as a whole, indicating that this problem is not strictly exclusive to the UK alone. There seems to be a disconnect between the younger generations and the manufacturing industry, despite the fact that technology as a whole is a field which continues to thrive, with the modern world becoming more technologically-evolved with every passing day.
So, is the availability of engineering-focused projects the key to ensuring that the skills gap is bridged? Karl Wigart, Qimtek’s Managing Director, certainly seems to think so. ‘We recognise the importance of a new generation of engineers,’ he says.
‘The Formula 24 competition is a great way of getting people involved at a younger age.’
Meanwhile at Kew House School, the Formula 24 team are well underway with the manufacture of their 2017 entry. Having tackled most of the mechanical aspects, attention has now been shifted to the structural integrity of their vehicle – a key element if they are to succeed in beating their competitors.
‘The students have really risen to the challenges involved in this exciting process and build progress is good,’ remarks Samantha Hunt, Head of Design and Technology at Kew House School.
‘Now we need a streamlined body to help us whizz around the race track in qualifying!’