Engineering the future

ES July15 Pg14 & 16 CEM Texcel 1Commercial director at Texcel Technology, Peter Shawyer, asks whether the Government really understands engineering when it comes to getting young people into industry?

We are repeatedly told that a strong British engineering sector is vital to the long term sustainability of our economic recovery. Naturally, increasing the supply of engineers is at the heart of this drive.

Britain is great at engineering; our engineers make an enormous contribution to the UK economy, but with an estimated annual shortfall of 55,000 engineers, we will not be able to continue. Will engineering apprentices solve the problem?

This very much depends upon how many young students want to take up an apprenticeship and how many companies are offering them. Apprenticeships can offer an excellent alternative to university, giving the young person life skills and real work experience, however we need Government support. But does the Government really understand engineering?


Driving support

If you’re old, like me, you will remember the UK had a two per cent wage levy on companies employing more than 50 staff that didn’t offer an approved apprentice scheme. One has to wonder if shouldn’t we bring this back?

Apprenticeships were a common thing when I was a lad, and now I see many middle and senior managers who started as apprentices running companies or major departments in companies. They have a wide experience range and are excellent problem solvers, but what happens when they all retire?

The removal of the levy and the Government drive to attract young school leavers into university all but killed off the apprenticeship approach to starting work. Paradoxically it is now the cost of university and the large numbers of life-taught students fighting for positions that is starting to make apprenticeships look more interesting.


Apprenticeships appeal

Texcel Technology is a medium sized engineering firm, currently working with three apprentices. After attending a careers meeting at the local grammar school recently, I was surprised, at just how many students wanted to start an apprenticeship with day release to college or university. This provides them with a formal education and with work experience, which gives them, and us, as the employer, such advantages.

Alternatively, universities like the University of Kent, offer one year’s work experience working for a company completing a specific project. This transforms students’ ability to move into full employment after their degree, either with the project company, or with another. The point being, they have work experience and a work focus that is very valuable.

Think long-term

My concern is that Government policies in this area need to be consistent and long term. Young people looking to plan their future need to be confident that the system will be there for them over time. Recently we have seen some very positive signs from the Government that improving employee skills are in their sights, but with the afore-mentioned shortfall in new engineers, and the current chronic skills shortage, are they moving fast enough?

We need some radical new thinking that produces a long term, clear-to-all plan with real incentives to drive this forward—perhaps it’s time to re-introduce the levy for those companies that are not supporting our engineering sector with excellent long term training?