22 Jul 2024


UK engineering is ‘facing a cliff edge’

UK engineering companies need 182,000 people with engineering skills to enter the market every year until 2022 – but there is currently an annual shortfall of 55,000 – according to a new report from EngineeringUK, the independent organisation that promotes engineering in the UK. It says that if enough skilled people were available, engineering could generate an extra £27bn per year for the UK economy from 2022 –­ the equivalent of building 1,800 schools or 110 hospitals.

The report – Engineering UK 2015: The State of Engineering – shows that engineering already accounts for almost a quarter (24.9%) of UK turnover. This is 9% higher than it was at the start of the recession.

But the report calculates that the number of engineering apprentices and graduates entering the industry will need to double to meet projected employer demand.

“This report shows the UK is facing a cliff-edge,” warns Stephen Tetlow, chief executive of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.  “It provides sobering statistics on the drastic shortage of engineers the UK faces. Every politician and policy-maker must understand the messages it is sending.

“It shows that unless we double the number of places for graduates and apprentices in our universities, colleges and training centres, not only will our vital industries and infrastructure fail, we will surrender any chance of future growth,” he adds. “We are about to surrender GDP. It’s as simple as that.”

The EngineeringUK report calls for:

• Either a doubling of the number of engineering graduates, or a 50% increase in the number of engineering and technology and related STEM and non-STEM graduates.

• A doubling of the number of young people studying GCSE physics and a growth in the number of students studying physics A level (or the equivalent) to equal that of maths. A particular focus is needed on increasing the take-up by girls.

• A doubling in the number of Advanced Apprenticeships in engineering and manufacturing technology, construction planning and the built environment, and information and communications technologies.

• Provision of careers inspiration for all 11­–14 year-olds, including opportunities for every child to have at least one engineering experience with an employer.

• Support for teachers and careers advisors so that they understand the range of modern scientific, technological and engineering career paths, including vocational/technician roles.

EngineeringUK’s chief executive Paul Jackson, points out that “engineering is a vital part of the UK economy, not just in terms of significant turnover but also with regards employment. For every new engineering role, an additional two jobs are created in the economy.

“The engineering community,” he adds, “is increasingly involved in a collective drive to inspire the next generation, who will ensure the continued growth and success of the industry in the UK. This collaborative work must continue if we are to come even close to realising engineering’s potential.”


Commenting on the EngineeringUK report, Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, says that “a strong British engineering sector is vital to the long-term sustainability of our economic recovery, and increasing the supply of engineers is at the heart of this. In Government, we’re working hard to make sure we have the skills we need in 2022 and beyond, but we need to work with industry to make sure we inspire the engineers of tomorrow, today.”

IMechE chief executive Stephen Tetlow points out that “engineers contribute over £1 trillion to the economy. That’s four times the retail sector. Even more importantly, engineers are at the heart of nearly all of the country’s vital sectors: from transport and energy through to healthcare and construction. They not only underpin the economy, they are vital to the very essentials of life: water, energy and food production.

“Engineers play critical roles in nearly all parts of society, not just the engineering ones we imagine,” he continues. “These vital sectors and all the opportunities for jobs, prosperity and growth are now dangerously at risk of failing. Most are now reporting serious shortages of the skills they need to survive, let alone grow. We need to be recruiting 182,000 people with engineering skills every year, but current levels are falling far short at just over 100,000 a year. And it’s been going on for years.

“What this report makes clear,” Tetlow adds, “is that we need a wholesale change in the way we value science and technology in schools and society. We can no longer rely on appealing just to the small proportion of people who are passionate about science, technology, engineering and maths subjects.

“We need science and engineering to be brought to life in the school curriculum and resources prioritised so that we can start to plug the appalling gaps we face. We need to understand the fundamental role engineers make to just about every walk of life and to our health and well-being. Resources need to be prioritised accordingly. And it’s not just Government that needs to take action. Employers of engineers need to welcome teachers, students and parents through their doors to show just what an exiting career can be had as an engineer.

“We must grasp the opportunity before it is too late,” Tetlow warns. “If we get it right, we can not only save our economy from failure, but we can boost the UK’s economy by an additional £27bn per year if we want to. We must ensure we have the skills in place to make this happen. If ever there was a wake-up call – this is it.”

To mark the launch of the new report, EngineeringUK (formerly the Engineering and Technology Board) commissioned research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) on the contribution of engineering to the UK economy, both current and potential. The report looks at the contribution that engineering could make to the UK economy if targets for filling the skills gap are met and all projected new vacancies in engineering companies are filled up to 2022.