Closing the skills gap
Watson and Crick. Lennon and McCartney. Hewlett and Packard. Three examples of successful collaborations whose achievements had a dramatic and long-term impact on their respective industries. To make a significant impact on the engineering skills shortage, a collaborative effort is also needed.
Engineering is a high-tech industry that relies on having well qualified, skilled and trained talent. Businesses are searching for employees with the digital and technical expertise to equip them to join the workforce of the fourth industrial revolution. The problem is that major industrial nations, including the UK and the US, have reported difficulty finding skilled talent.
The pace at which the engineering industry is changing exacerbates the issue. Due to the onset of Industry 4.0, the skills required in a manufacturing role are considerably different than they have been in previous years. The World Economic Forum reported that 35 per cent of the skills required for jobs across industry will change by 2020.
Technology is becoming obsolete faster than ever and is making some skills obsolete with it. The UK Government reported that 12.6 million adults lack basic digital skills, which could make it challenging for them to work in a digital, connected facility. Education has a role to play in ensuring the workforce has the relevant skills, but so do parents, Government and engineering businesses. So, what can companies do to help bridge the gap?
By taking on an apprentice, a business can teach young people the relevant skills needed to succeed, giving them the opportunity to earn while they learn. Apprentices are trained in current technology, so there is no time for it to become obsolete between education and starting work.
Companies are now beginning to offer higher apprenticeships, which allow young people to train to degree level while working at a company. This allows young people to reinforce their theoretical knowledge with practical experience. National Grid, BAE Systems and Siemens are just a few companies offering technical apprenticeships to help young people improve their skills this way.
New apprenticeships are being launched in line with the introduction of new technologies, such as one of the Manufacturing Technology Centre’s programmes, which is dedicated to additive manufacturing. Apprenticeships focusing on new, innovative technologies will help the workforce be ready for the future workplace.
It’s not just about training the new workforce. Because of the rate of technological change, companies must upskill their existing workforce to ensure they are equipped for the digital future and prevent a skills gap from opening. The importance of upskilling was highlighted in the 2017 Made Smarter report, which called for a Commission to lead the upskilling of over one million industrial workers in the UK.
Companies can also engage with school children to help increase the pipeline of talent entering science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers. This can include work experience, careers events and hosting workshops or tours. Engineers and scientists can register to become a STEM ambassador and volunteer at such events. This gives young people the opportunity to gain insight into what a career in engineering is really like. Companies like Siemens offer extensive outreach programmes to help tackle this issue.
The skills shortage is putting pressure on engineering businesses to do more to safeguard future recruitment. Businesses can lay the foundations for a digital future by training new staff, upskilling their existing workforce and reaching out to children and young people to encourage them to consider a STEM career. In collaboration with the Government, other businesses and the education sector, we could really make a lasting difference, much like Watson and Crick, Lennon and McCartney and Hewlett and Packard.