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More skilled engineers needed to make the UK’s industrial strategy ‘viable’, IET research shows

The government’s flagship industrial strategy will fail if the UK does not solve its shortage of skilled engineers, the IET has told ministers.

Research conducted among 800 employers found that three out of five believed trying to recruit suitably qualified staff was a barrier to their business prospects.

The 2017 Skills and Demand in Industry report showed that nearly two thirds (61 per cent) of the engineering and technical workforce consider the recruitment of engineering and technical staff with the right skills as a barrier to achieving their business objectives over the next three years.

75 per cent agree that tackling the skills problem is fundamental to making the government’s Industrial Strategy viable.

To address these growing concerns over the skills gaps in the engineering workforce, 81 per cent agree that more employers need to provide work experience to help improve the supply chain, but only 30 per cent of all employers acknowledge that it is their responsibility to invest in the necessary training to meet the skills challenges posed by increased digitisation and automation.

40 per cent say they are proactive in offering engineering apprenticeships in their business, but only about one third (31 per cent) count at least one engineering or technical apprentice among their workforce at the time of the survey.

Most of those surveyed said digital technologies and automation will advance rapidly over the next few years in engineering.

Joanna Cox, head of policy at the IET, said: “As the UK goes through a period of economic uncertainty, the skills shortage in engineering remains an ongoing concern for engineering companies in the UK.

“Employers tell us that tackling this problem is fundamental to making the government’s Industrial strategy viable.

“We must now bring businesses, academia and government together and strengthen their working relationships to ensure that the next generation of talent has the right practical and technical skills to meet future demand.

“We are urging more businesses to provide more quality work experience opportunities for young people and more apprenticeships, enabling employees to earn while they learn and develop their work-readiness.”

The study also found that fewer than one in seven firms made particular efforts to recruit women.

In April the government introduced an apprenticeship levy that was welcomed by key figures in the UK engineering sector, but they warned the government not to lose focus on developing high-value skills in order to meet arbitrary targets. 

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