An ageing workforce and growing population of retirees mean that huge numbers of highly experienced and qualified professionals are leaving the sector. We must ensure enough young people are undertaking the right qualifications to replace them.
According to a report from Engineering UK, more than two million new workers will be needed within the next five to 10 years, so recruitment and development are vital to the future of the engineering and manufacturing sector.
Positive action to support our industry, one of the UK’s largest, will affect not only individual businesses but also the country as a whole, aiding economic recovery and helping to reduce spiralling unemployment figures.
The responsibility to educate young people, as well as their teachers and parents, in the benefits and variety of careers in engineering and manufacturing must fall on the sector itself.
We need to provide and promote pathways to fulfilling careers - whether through vocational training programmes, apprenticeships or other avenues.
Businesses and organisations need to ensure that careers advisers have up-to-date information and literature, that teachers are able to pass on relevant and interesting advice about the variety of engineering and manufacturing job opportunities, and that young people are directly involved in activities aimed at raising awareness.
One of the key recruitment demographics identified by Engineering UK was 16-to-24-year-olds that are not in education, employment or training (NEETs), whose numbers have risen significantly over the past 10 years.
We need to provide them with education pathways, such as apprenticeships, to ensure they can gain employment. But the numbers of apprentice starts in engineering and manufacturing has risen by only a quarter over the past year, against more than 70 per cent in other sectors. This disparity must be addressed.
Another important area of recruitment and development is women, who have so far been relatively underused in this traditionally male-dominated sector.
Engineering UK’s report stated that only 8.7 per cent of professional engineers in the UK are women - the lowest proportion in Europe. We must right this by encouraging more women to gain the skills and qualifications to take up and excel in engineering and manufacturing careers.
The sector needs to explore and expand its vocational training options, as well as promote them within schools and colleges, at recruitment fairs and online, to encourage young people into careers in green technology, plumbing, heating and ventilating, and other related trades.
The government is providing hundreds of millions of pounds in additional investment to boost apprenticeships and vocational training programmes. Employers need to be taking advantage of these funding streams while they are available.
Ann Watson is managing director of EAL