technician at work

Engineering technicians: lynchpins of the UK economy

Engineering technicians play a crucial role across most industry sectors, making them vital to the future prosperity of the UK. A number of initiatives are currently working to attract, recognise and increase their number.

It’s been two years now since Prime Minister David Cameron, under the coalition government, announced a new scheme to produce an additional 100,000 engineering technicians in the UK by 2018.

Whilst images of a dream-like production line in a vast Willy Wonka-esque chocolate technician factory, producing identikit figures in white lab coats to be continuously delivered to the outermost reaches of the land might spring to mind (No? Just me, then), what David Cameron really had in mind was a national drive aiming to increase eightfold the number of registered engineering technicians over five years following the scheme’s inception.

Called EngTechNow, the campaign is run by the three largest engineering institutions: the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), with support from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, an organisation set up by David Sainsbury, to realise his charitable objectives. Its core aim is to place EngTech professional registration and its associated standards of assessment at the heart of the engineering profession, prompting a step-change in the recognition, adoption and ongoing use of the EngTech title. The scheme involves marketing the benefits of registration and targets apprentices in particular.

Head of engineering function at BAE Systems Maritime Services, Vaughan Meir, says that for too long the engineering industry has failed to recognise the skills and value that engineering technicians offer.

“Engineering technicians in our business and in industry in general are often the unsung heroes of what we do for our customers,” he explains. “EngTech status will help to remove that issue and recognise what they have to offer.

EngTech status

“EngTech status gives technicians the opportunity to be recognised. It gives them an identity and the opportunity to move on to Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng), if that’s what they want to do with their career,” he adds.

Engineering technicians play a crucial and invaluable role across most industry sectors, making them vital to the future prosperity of the UK. At present, there is a real need to help spur growth in the numbers of professionally registered engineering technicians to ensure the high standards necessary to meet future demand.

This demand for qualified technicians in the STEM subjects is well recognised by employers, the engineering profession and government alike. Evidence shows that the need to attract, recognise and increase the number of registered technicians throughout the UK is crucial in delivering economic growth.

Indeed, in this year’s Engineering UK report ‘The State of Engineering’, the figures show that the skills shortage could cost the UK economy up to £27bn a year if companies fail to hire 182,000 engineers annually until 2022. The report concluded that the UK does not have either the current capacity or the growth rate needed at all levels of study to meet the demand for skilled engineers forecast for the next seven years.

According to the Technician Council, the UK will need to recruit 450,000 people working at technical level or equivalent in STEM by 2020 in order to meet the demand due to expansion and older workers retiring.

Campaigns round-up

Faced with these stark numbers, a range of technician registration initiatives has emerged in recent years, alongside EngTechNow, helping to tackle the national shortage of professionally registered technicians. With the grim forecast above, they’ve certainly got their work cut out.

The Engineering Council is working on many of these initiatives with partners, including government and charity-funded campaigns, professional engineering institutions, employers, awarding organisations and other relevant organisations and societies. Key technician initiatives supported by the Engineering Council include:

Trailblazer apprenticeships

The latest government guidance, issued this summer, aims to put employers firmly in the driving seat of apprenticeship schemes. With employers being the ‘Trailblazers’ of the title, apprenticeships will be based on standards designed by the employers themselves, making them more relevant and therefore more attractive to existing and new employers.

Since the introduction of ‘Trailblazer’ apprenticeship standards, the Engineering Council and the professional engineering institutions have welcomed the requirement for all new engineering-related apprenticeship standards to align with the Engineering Council’s core standards documents. This will ensure that qualified apprentices are eligible for EngTech.

Technician Apprenticeship Consortium

The Technician Apprenticeship Consortium brings together engineering consultancy firms to enable them to meet their business needs through the recruitment and training of technician apprentices.

The Consortium aims to ensure that there is a valued work-based route to professional status for aspiring engineers including those who are currently under-represented within the sector such as women engineers, those from ethnic minorities and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Another core focus is on increasing the numbers of young people taking up this route and with it the number of companies appreciating the benefits it brings them and so committing to providing technician apprenticeship places.

The great Gatsby

A common thread running throughout many of these initiatives and programmes is the support of Gatsby.

“It is a scandal that when employers are finding it difficult to recruit trained technicians, half a million 16 to 24-year-olds are unemployed,” states David Sainsbury, known as Lord Sainsbury of Turville, settlor of the Gatsby Charitable Foundation.

He goes on to explain in the organisation’s recently published Annual Review 2015 that technical education and the development of an effectve system of accredited provision and technician registration by the key professional bodies continues to be a major area of work for Gatsby, adding: “Technicians are the lynchpins of the UK economy. They work alongside scientists and engineers throughout many high-growth industries. As such they are vital to our future economic prosperity.”

The Review outlines how 1.5 million technicians are currently employed in the UK, but that an aging workforce together with technological advances means that as many as 700,000 technicians will need to be trained over the next decade to meet the demand from employers. Gatsby strives to boost the supply and status of technicians through the many campaigns and initiatives it supports. These fall under broad areas:

Status and identity

Gatsby believes that a robust set of professional registers for STEM technicians will help to give technician occupations the status they deserve. It is therefore working to make professional registration for technicians the new norm. Gatsby supports EngTechNow to demonstrate to employers how EngTech registration can benefit businesses.

Gatsby supports the Science Council in its work to elect technicians to two new science registers: Registered Science Technician (RSciTech) and Registered Scientist (RSci). It hopes to realise 30,000 science technicians registering over the next few years.

The organisation is also supporting the BCS – the Chartered Institute for IT – in its work with employers to promote a new Registered IT Technician (RITTech) register, in recognising the many different roles of an IT technician, from frontline IT support through to database management.

Unionised workplaces

Gatsby also supports unions in promoting technician registration in the workplace. Working with UnionLearn, the education and skills section of the TUC, and the HEaTED programme, delivering training for university technicians, these efforts support the technician journey through education towards registration.

RegTech is a project established by the Prospect Union, with Gatsby support and alongside the EngTechNow campaign, which promotes the registration of technicians, be they ICT/IT technicians, EngTech or SciTech, and seeks to engage and work in partnership with employers and local Prospect branches in its support of potential recipients.

All of these campaigns and initiatives take a long-term view in strengthening the technician workforce and consider the bigger picture of a future economy boosted by robust professional registers. Status and identity are highly prized and sought-after concepts and, once publicly recognised, ensure the profession’s reputation. In meeting these standards, which guarantee a minimum level of competence, technicians reinforce the strength of their profession.

As Charlotte Gough EngTech TIET, an auto electrical technician at Bentley Motors, sums up, “I believe I gained greater recognition for my work from my peers and my employer and holding EngTech proves that, as a technician, my job is highly skilled. Apply today!”

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