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Skills gap blamed on a lack of technicians and apprentices

08 December, 2008

Most critical skills shortages in UK industry are due to a lack of technicians and apprentices, rather than graduates. According to the Engineering and Technology Board (ETB), jobs classified as “skilled trades” or “plant, process and machine operatives” and roles such as engineering technicians, account for 61% of all skills vacancies in the engineering sector.

In its annual report on the state of engineering in the UK, the ETB reveals that the current intake of non-graduates is insufficient to meet replacement demand in technician and processing roles. At the same time, however, a quarter of those signed up for the apprenticeship scheme report that they are unable to find apprenticeships or employers.

Demographic trends suggest that the skills shortage is likely to get worse with the population of 16-24 year-olds forecast to decline by 10% to 6.25 million by 2020.

The ETB report, Engineering UK 2008, also reveals that there has been a 7% increase in applications for university engineering and technology courses over the past five years, as well as a 2.3% increase in students graduating with engineering and technology degrees. The total number of first degrees in these subjects in 2007 was 319,260 – 12.7% more than in 2002.

Nine out of ten engineering graduates who go into full-time employment stay in the engineering and technology sectors rather than being “lost” to financial occupations, as is widely believed.

Despite these trends, employers complain that they are experiencing increasing difficulty finding engineers with the team-working, problem-solving and communications skills required for the modern world.

Many employers also doubt whether school-leavers are ready to settle down to working careers. The ETB report says that three-quarters of employers that have recruited in the past three years have not taken on any 16-17 year-olds, and half have not recruited anyone under 25.

‘While the UK does need to maintain and develop an increasingly knowledge-based economy to compete globally, Engineering UK 2008 reveals that our most pressing need is for intermediate skills at an operational level,” says the ETB’s out-going chief executive, Dr John Morton. “If we want to remain competitive and ensure our world-class knowledge-base continues to evolve apace, we must rapidly expand and develop our Further Education and Apprenticeship programmes to ensure that we have enough skilled technicians coming through the system.

“The new engineering diploma is a great step forward,” he adds, “but we must make sure we back it up with support at all levels of vocational education training.”




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