A new study has shown an uptake in engineering related STEM subjects, especially for A levels and apprenticeships. The growth in uptake is unlikely to meet Britain’s growing demand for high-skilled engineers though, with a predicted shortfall of 110,000 personnel.
The report from industry group EngineeringUK, The State of Engineering 2018, examines workforce demands and education trends to arrive at this figure. The encouraging finding is an increase both in entries for A levels in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects, and in the number of young people beginning engineering-related apprenticeships. The work-based learning route fared especially well, seeing a 7% year-on-year rise in the 2015/16 academic year.
The news has been well received by the engineering industry, although many have reservations about the depth of the trend. Sean Harris, membership director of the Institution of Civil Engineers commented: “The reported increases in the uptake of STEM subjects show that real progress has been made but the UK still faces a significant skills shortfall. There continue to be too few entrants into the industry and this, compounded by the uncertainty created by Brexit, is creating further uncertainty around recruitment. This shortage will continue to be exacerbated as new technology continues to transform the infrastructure sector, increasing demand for high-skilled workers.”
The worries about the longer term trends are shared by EngineeringUK too. While celebrating the increased numbers of A level and apprenticeship entrants, the report notes with concern that GCSE entries for biology, chemistry and physics fell by 10% over the 5 year period to 2017, while A level pass rates for STEM subjects have stagnated at a point below the all-subject average for A level passes.
Worryingly, even the growth in apprenticeships seems to be faltering, although figures have yet to be confirmed, EngineeringUK reports that early numbers for 2017 appear to have fallen. This could be due to low awareness of apprenticeships as a route into an engineering career – 58% of 11-14 year olds surveyed for the research said that they know little or nothing about how the qualifications work.
Mark Titterington, EngineeringUK’s chief executive, sees encouraging young people to pursue engineering careers as one of the profession’s key priorities. “The types of jobs people actually do are very different to what might be expected and, in this Year of Engineering, it’s incumbent on all of us to help young people to see how apprenticeships in particular can offer a very credible, valuable and rewarding career route into engineering,” he said. Certainly the report suggest a pressing need to create more engineers. Pointing to the growing role of tech, and the skills requirements this brings, the report predicts an annual shortfall of 22,000 graduate engineers, and across all level 3+ engineering roles a need for another 110,000 apprentices or graduates.
For Mr Harris this is not unexpected: “None of this should be a surprise to anyone in the industry,” he said. “We have for some time known the scale of the problem and we risk the UK’s future economic prosperity and society’s wellbeing if we do not take urgent action. ICE, has for some time led the way in dedicating resources to tackling the skills gap, including using its 2018 bicentenary to embark on an ambitious public engagement campaign, but this report shows that there remains much left to do.”
Mr Titterington agrees on the importance of the task ahead, he also called for action from the government: “Together with government, we also need to ensure that apprenticeships that are offered are of a consistent high quality and that they are open and attractive to a diverse range of young people, particularly girls. We believe this is crucial if the skills shortfall identified in our latest report is to be tackled to the benefit of both the UK economy and our society.”