Now is the time for industry-wide change.
The ICE’s Manifesto for Infrastructure stated that we need to “up the ante when it comes to securing a world-class engineering workforce that can drive innovation and economic productivity”. Are we making progress here?
I believe a vital part of the solution is starting to show dramatic signs of progress and change - a transformational shift is beginning to evolve, with the engineering profession leading the way.
The EngTechNow campaign - a collaborative initiative between ICE, IET and IMechE aimed to raise awareness of the value of registration as an Engineering Technician - is making a real difference, changing the lives of individuals and their career prospects.
Professional recognition of Technicians is also gathering pace amongst the engineering profession with enlightened employers actively reviewing business models - and crucially their recruitment, retention and recognition policies - to embrace professional development and status for their Technician cohort and develop a fully professional workforce.
Recently I heard a major infrastructure employer describing the resourcing crisis emerging and its impact on their business, and at a recent employers’ forum in Birmingham the skills shortage theme was repeated.
Clearly the challenge we face is well rehearsed and very real - but what struck me were the positive anecdotes and optimism from those taking a more holistic approach.
The rebirth of apprenticeships and the changing nature of financing the education process, means many employers, parents and youngsters alike are recognising the opportunities presented by alternative routes into a professional career.
But these young people need our support. Some very impressive young trainee technicians have highlighted some of the challenges young professionals can face, with friends, peers and some colleagues often misunderstanding the professional nature of their chosen path. This is based on preconceptions of an apprenticeship, or work-based learning option, somehow being less worthy.
Quality careers information from year 10 is key and the ICE is working hard with partners to support this, but we must all play our part in raising the profile, respect and status of all of those entering our proud profession - whether full-time student, graduate or apprentice.
Recent research shows that 65% of teachers would rarely or never advise a pupil to apply for an apprenticeship if they have the grades for University. Apprentices have told us they have often had to look beyond accepted wisdom to learn about the professional nature of their chosen path.
With the challenges facing our sector, the prize is well worth fighting for. With over 3M reaching the age of 16 in the next five years, and the economic focus shifting to productivity, this is a huge opportunity.
If we can establish an industry-wide, holistic approach to skills, embrace all those who enter our great profession, and extend the well-established systems for graduate development to all those seeking support, I believe we can indeed secure the world-class engineering workforce our infrastructure sector needs. Now is the time.
- Steve Feeley is ICE director of membership recruitment