If you’re in any doubt as to how serious a problem the skills gap is for UK manufacturing, then it’s worth checking out the UK Shortage Occupation List. A catalogue comprised almost exclusively of engineering-based professions, it really does illustrate the crisis our national manufacturing efforts are facing lest we facilitate a considerable skills uptake - and soon. The demand for engineers is ever-increasing in direct correlation with industry growth; the UK now ranks as the ninth-largest manufacturing nation in the world, which cannot be sustained or improved without the skilled professionals needed to support it.
With a majority of working-age people comfortably settled into their respective careers, the focus falls onto younger generations. The UK manufacturing industry desperately needs young people to consider STEM-based careers for its own survival, meaning that more has to be done to encourage and educate school-aged children as to the advantages of working within the engineering sector.
Tomorrow’s Engineers Week and the Year of Engineering:
If you’ve had your ear to the ground (or perhaps the Twittersphere) in the past few days, you may have heard that it’s Tomorrow’s Engineers Week. Taking place from the 5th to the 9th November and returning for its sixth consecutive year, Tomorrow’s Engineers Week is a national campaign geared towards inspiring young people to pursue a career in engineering. Having reached over 300,000 young people in the past 12 months and with a collective vision to reach over 1,000,000 young people every year, Tomorrow’s Engineers is an ambitious project that could ensure momentum of UK manufacturing is driven safely forward, propelling it into the waiting arms of a skills-rich generation, instead of one that is devoid of those skills altogether.
Comprised of a number of events and collaboration with STEM-based employers, Tomorrow’s Engineers Week 2018 forms part of the Year of Engineering - a widespread government campaign to disparage outdated perceptions around STEM careers and encourage a more diverse range of engineering candidates. With the UK having the lowest number of female engineers in Europe, this is an issue that sadly, sorely requires action. A solution could also serve as a jigsaw piece within the larger puzzle, as it will inevitably lead to increased numbers of young people - of all genders and backgrounds - viewing engineering as a viable career option.
Making Engineering Fun:
In addition to Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, the Tomorrow’s Engineers programme has a multitude of other activities, events and competitions that aim to make engineering accessible to young people. School workshops that teach children about energy and carbon emissions are coupled with events that educate students about different STEM subsectors, all the while providing them with comprehensive careers guidance and advice. Tomorrow’s Engineers also gives young people the chance to get involved in their EEP Robotics Challenge - an in-school or extracurricular programme that teaches pupils how to build, program and control Lego robots. By combining elements of robotics engineering, software programming and computing, the EEP Robotics Challenge brings together three different STEM niches and illustrates the scope of options available to would-be engineers.
One thing is for certain - Tomorrow’s Engineers have removed the stuffy-classroom aesthetic from all of their approaches, which is absolutely vital if young people are to embrace engineering as a rewarding career choice. We cannot expect enthusiasm to be generated from yawn-inducing lectures, but by offering hands-on, interactive pursuits, students are much more likely to leave captivated and curious to find out more.
Perhaps this is where STEM-based education has previously fallen short; reports earlier this year suggest that design & technology classes have been cut from approximately 50% of schools. This means that access to practical learning within the standard curriculum is limited and in some cases, nonexistent.
The Bigger Picture:
The message behind both Tomorrow’s Engineers Week and the Year of Engineering is not that there is a lack of options for budding engineers, but rather a lack of budding engineers themselves. Indeed, a majority of OEMs and subcontract engineering companies alike now offer apprenticeship schemes but if young people are not enticed by a career in engineering, then there will be a shortage of candidates to fill these positions. In short, we need to be tackling the problem at the source instead of adopting a build-it-and-they-will-come attitude.
Tomorrow’s Engineers Week is a fantastic example of the sort of engagement we should be undertaking every week, whilst the Year of Engineering promotes a message we should be emphasising every day. And we shouldn’t just leave it up to such events and programmes - we all need to take responsibility as employers, parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents to point young people in the direction of STEM careers and give the UK manufacturing sector a new lease of life. After all, there’s no shortage of passion for engineering - the next step is imparting this passion onto those who will inherit the industry in the not-too distant future.
If you would like to get involved in the Tomorrow’s Engineers programme, please visit www.tomorrowsengineers.org.uk for more information.