Could do better!

An assessment of UK manufacturing’s ability to attract young people into engineering careers, when compared to the US, Japan and Germany, leaves a lot to be desired.

In 2017 Carl Patrick, a project engineer at Mills CNC, was awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship Grant to research the perceptions and attitudes of young people in Germany, Japan and the US towards engineering and careers in manufacturing.

The research project was undertaken by Carl throughout 2017 and involved him travelling to the three countries to meet with, and talk directly to, young people in schools and colleges, apprentices, employers, education and training providers and organisations involved in promoting engineering and manufacturing.

The intention behind the research project was to highlight best-practice methods adopted in these countries, and recommend strategies and initiatives that could be implemented in the UK to encourage more young people to consider, and ultimately choose, a career in engineering.

The timing and nature of the project undertaken by Carl could not be more apposite with recent reports from both the EEF and Cranfield University, released in 2018, highlighting that UK manufacturing is continuing to face critical skills shortages that could well put productivity and growth at risk.

Summary of findings

  • Engineering and manufacturing occupations and careers (including training and apprenticeships) in Germany, Japan and the US are regarded favourably and have a higher and more positive profile/perception than in the UK.
  • Young people in Germany, Japan and the US are encouraged to consider careers in engineering     at a much earlier age than in the UK.
  • Engineering and manufacturing careers are better paid (on average) in Germany, Japan and the US than in the UK.
  • Government, industry and school initiatives appear more integrated, are more consistently applied and are better funded in Germany, Japan and the US than in the UK.

 Summary of recommendations

There are a number of actions that could be taken to address the issues faced in the UK. These will require the involvement of not only the engineering industry sector, but also the education sector and Government too.

Closer collaboration between these key players is vital to ensure that young people experience engineering and manufacturing in a more positive light, and are well-informed of the many opportunities a career in engineering can provide. If this is done, the shortage in engineering skills will be addressed.

  • Streamline STEM infrastructure: Make it easier for schools to connect with engineering employers and other providers to access high-quality, engineering focused STEM engagement activity and initiatives. Reposition Tomorrow’s Engineers Programme as the ‘go to’ place for this activity.
  • Understand best-practice and what works: The engineering and STEM outreach communities should develop a better understanding of what engineering-focused career interventions work in practice. Focusing on good practice will avoid duplication and ensure that resources are deployed effectively.
  • Address STEM teacher shortage: Government working with the engineering and education sectors need to increase the supply and retention of specialist STEM teachers. This has been a long standing issue and one that requires a new and innovative approach.
  • Safeguard against potential negative implications of Brexit: Government must ensure that the UK’s exit from the EU does not exacerbate the engineering skills shortage. It is vital that the UK maintains its world-class engineering credentials to attract young people into the sector.
  • Ensure apprenticeships are high quality: Employers and Government need to increase the supply of high quality apprenticeships. More attention needs to be given to raising awareness of apprenticeships with young people and their influencers (i.e. parents, teachers, careers staff etc). A review of the Apprenticeship Levy initiative needs to be conducted to ensure it is having the desired effect.
  • Raise understanding and awareness of engineering – per se: The engineering sector should ensure young people have a good, comprehensive understanding of the engineering careers available today and in the future, and promote these positively and passionately to address negative perceptions. ‘The Year of Engineering’ and ‘This is Engineering’ initiatives provide good opportunities to showcase the sector to a new generation.
  • Improve diversity and inclusion: The engineering sector should improve its diversity and inclusion record. Better understanding of the barriers for women, black and minority ethnic communities and people from disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue pathways into, and careers in, engineering needs to occur.

Concludes Carl Patrick:

“Clearly not everything can be done at once. However, with Brexit looming and the UK already experiencing a critical engineering skills gap it is important that action is taken quickly in order to ensure the UK’s continuing growth and competitiveness.”

Carl Patrick is employed by Mills CNC a company that, through its independently-operated training division called the CNC Training Academy offers a comprehensive range of high-quality, professionally-delivered and competitively-priced CNC operator and programmer courses from its state-of-the-art training facility in Leamington.

The CNC Training Academy provides Fanuc, Heidenhain and Siemens operator and programer courses (beginner to advanced), as well as specialist and advanced courses that include Custom Macro B and FeatureCam, as well as machine tool maintenance courses.

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