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Engineering faces 20,000 skills shortfall

Skills shortfall

Conservative estimates suggest the UK market will suffer a shortfall of 20,000 engineering graduates each year, according to a new skills report.

Demand for engineering graduates is outstripping supply, and continuing to attract and retain European Union (EU) talent will be key post-Brexit, says the 2017 Engineering UK: the state of engineering study, published by Engineering UK.

“We conclude from the report, a shortfall of at least 20,000 annually (and likely higher, depending on assumptions),” said a joint letter from Engineering UK chair Malcolm Brinded and Royal Academy of Engineering president professor Dame Ann Dowling that accompanied the study. “We are highly dependent on attracting and retaining international talent from the EU and beyond to help meet this shortfall: a vital part of post-Brexit policies.”

The impact of Brexit was not modelled for the study, but Engineering UK said it would refine its current forecasting model over the coming year and that it intends to update its projections to consider the UK’s departure from the EU in the 2018 report.

Efforts to attract girls and women into engineering studies and careers should be stepped up, it continued – fewer than one out of eight engineers are women and boys are three and a half times more likely to study A Level physics than girls, it says.

The study sets out the economic case for developing engineering skills. It points to analysis from the Centre for Economics & Business Research, which says that the engineering sector added £486bn to the economy in 2015 – more than retail, finance and insurance.

Five recommendations are made to address the shortfall:

  • Encourage many more pupils to choose science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects and maintain the option of going into careers in engineering and technology
  • Increase diversity in engineering and technology, through the education system, into and throughout employment
  • Draw on talent already in the workforce: increase skills, improve retention, and attract employees from other sectors
  • Enhance the vital international dimension in UK higher education and subsequent employment
  • Develop an industrial strategy that reinforces and sustains engineering’s contributions to the UK, and recognises and helps to address the STEM skills gap

“We hope these recommendations will influence the agendas of everyone involved in the relevant aspects of Government, education and employment, and so help to galvanise more action, for the good of the UK economy and for future generations,” the letter continued.

How did analysts arrive at the 20,000 shortfall figure?

The Engineering UK study says:  “Projections for the engineering sector developed by University of Warwick’s Institute for Employment Research from a bespoke extension of  [government] Working Futures 2014-2024 forecasts there will be demand in engineering enterprises for 265,000 skilled entrants annually through to 2024, of which around 186,000 will be needed in engineering occupations, to meet replacement and expansion demand.

“The total size of employment for those with level 31 skills will shrink, although significant replacement demand of around 57,000 entrants per year at this level will remain. At level 42 and higher, the annual requirement for engineering occupations is expected to be just over 101,000 annually. The demand will be particularly acute in construction, but also strong across the science and engineering, ICT and manufacturing sectors, and especially in London and the south east of England, although there will be net demand in all UK nations and regions.

“Engineering UK’s model for the supply of entrants into engineering roles with level 4-plus skills, through higher education and higher level apprenticeships, projects that there will be around 41,000 entrants of UK nationality annually. Our estimates of the supply from EU and other international graduates, based on our historic model, project the potential addition of up to a further 40,000 graduates, comprising a total of just over 81,000. This projection of supply assumes that similar numbers of international students will continue to study in the UK and continue to (be eligible to) work in engineering in the UK. Based on these estimates and assumptions, projected supply will fall short of demand by at least 20,000 per year.”

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