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Murray McKintosh News Article

Does the UK have enough engineers?

With plans for a third runway at Heathrow as well as the Hinckley Point C nuclear power station and the 42 kilometre Crossrail line looking to improve the UK’s infrastructure, the demand for more engineers of every level is consistently increasing.

Written by:

Jessica Kavanagh

With plans for a third runway at Heathrow as well as the Hinckley Point C nuclear power station and the 42 kilometre Crossrail line looking to improve the UK’s infrastructure, the demand for more engineers of every level is consistently increasing.

The UK currently faces a growing skills shortage that has been supplemented by engineers from around Europe. However, as formal Brexit negotiations may forgo freedom of movement, employers may struggle to bring in the experienced engineers they need for the various projects taking place.

It’s expected that by 2025, the UK will need an additional 1.8 million engineers, according to reseach by Engineering UK. Unfortunately, the engineering industry is currently suffering from a 20,000 shortfall in candidates being produced by the education system every year.  

One of the reasons for this skills gap could be the lack of women considering engineering as a legitimate career. Currently Britain has the lowest number of practising female engineers in Europe and this might be due to stereotypes which incorrectly portray the engineering industry as a ‘boys club.’

This contributes to the two biggest barriers stopping people from joining the engineering sector: a lack of understanding about what the role concerns and a poor stereotype. Alongside this, many do not value engineering apprenticeships at the same level as a university degree. Even global companies such as Goldman Sachs struggle to convince students and parents alike that an apprenticeship isn’t a second-class route to a career.

While the UK’s borders may become stricter once we leave the EU, there is the potential of introducing a fast-track process allowing much needed engineers from Europe to bolster those currently working on various projects. However, as tighter border controls become increasingly likely, the likelihood of this approach seems unrealistic. 

The Telegraph quoted David Landsman, UK boss of Tata showing his concern on Brexit’s effect on the skills shortage:

“As the UK charts a course for itself outside the EU, a thriving engineering sector is critical to our future prosperity.

“To achieve this we need to boost the numbers of home-grown engineers - which means re-shaping both how engineering is perceived and respected, and how our young people are taught.

“Unless we take action now, we will be faced with a severe shortage of engineering talent which will act as a major drag on future economic growth.”

However, Sir Terry Morgan, Crossrail’s Chairman, didn’t seem too concerned about a post-Brexit skills gap affecting the UK’s infrastructure projects. A Sky News article quotes him saying:

"People said we wouldn't find the skills we needed, but we've trained 650 apprentices on this project. You have to have tenacity and we, as a country, can develop skills through these big infrastructure projects.

"I don't share the concerns about the impact of Brexit - I think we might start exporting our knowledge to other markets. That's a massive opportunity."

While the skills gap is an issue right now, a post Brexit-engineering industry could potentially see the UK create a strong engineering workforce. There are already colleges dedicated to training prospective engineers with the skills they need to be able to work on the HS2 train line. Alongside this, inventor James Dyson has also announced plans to open his own college allowing students to work alongside Dyson engineers, gaining valuable industry training and allowing them to earn a wage.

Until the skills gap is finally closed, the projects at Heathrow, HS2 and Hinckley Point may have to phase their construction as there may not be enough of a skilled workforce to ensure they all run smoothly, on time and to plan.

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© 2016 Murray McIntosh.

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