The number of people starting engineering apprenticeships has declined by 9 per cent over the past three years, according to an industry accountancy firm.
Referring to data from the governmental Skills Funding Agency, SJD Accountancy said that only 63,240 people started engineering apprenticeships in 2013/2014, which is 6,490 less than in 2011/2012. This marks a 9.3 per cent decrease, which is in sharp contrast with the government-supported campaign aiming to attract more young people to careers in engineering.
The number also suggests that the UK is not yet on the way to closing the widening skills gap and meeting the demand for skilled engineering workers, which is expected to increase in the upcoming years.
“Apprenticeships have been a government priority in recent years. Despite initial success in boosting the numbers of engineering apprenticeships, the numbers are now on a worrying downward trend,” said Simon Curry, CEO of SJD Accountancy.
“At a time when the UK engineering sector is facing a skills shortage and needs to recruit tens of thousands of additional engineers every year, these apprenticeships numbers show that the gap is beginning to widen again. Skills shortages push up costs for major engineering projects and have a knock-on effect across the wider economy.”
However, the firm said, engineering is not the only discipline seeing the interest of young people in apprenticeships falling. Over the same three-year period, the overall number of new apprentices across industries has decreased by 17 per cent, form 520,600 new entrants in 2011/12 to 434,400 in 2012/14.
This means that the government will have to more than double the rate of new apprenticeships if it wants to meet the target of three million new apprenticeships over the next five years, as announced by Prime Minister David Cameron last month.
To make up for the local lack of engineering professionals, firms are forced to recruit engineers from abroad. As the UK economy rises after years of economic difficulties, so does the number of foreign recruits. In the last year alone the number of non-European engineering professionals recruited by UK firms increased by 36 per cent.
“With a large number of senior engineers reaching retirement, we need to ensure that the talent pipeline is delivering fresh skills if the UK engineering sector is to prosper,” Curry added.
“The government could also do more to encourage engineering contractors, who are vital to the flexibility of the engineering workforce, to re-train and update their skills. External training is currently not a tax deductable expense, but if we want to ensure that the UK engineering skills base is equipped for the future, providing a tax break for engineering contractors to update their skills would be a useful contribution.”
SJD Accountancy points out that spending on infrastructure projects, which heavily use engineering skills, has risen from around £41bn annually 2005-10 to £45bn annually 2011-13. The National Infrastructure Plan (NIP), which was announced by the government last December, plans to spend £375bn on infrastructure projects up to 2030 and beyond.