Skills shortages are a clear and present danger to economy, says engineering community


The UK’s professional engineering community takes issue with research that questions whether there really are skills shortages in the industry.

Professor Emma Smith and Stephen Gorard of the University of Birmingham claim HESA figures show that less than half (about 46%) of 2009 engineering graduates were in jobs directly related to their degree subject six months after leaving university. However, this figure is little different to any other degree subject at the same point in time.

Speaking on behalf of the profession-wide Education for Engineering (E4E) policy group, Philip Greenish, Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering, says: “Engineers are highly-skilled professionals. Employers recruit them from wherever they can in a global marketplace.  Only a proportion will be fresh UK graduates. To infer that employers don’t know their own workforce needs when they identify a shortage of engineers, and to do this based on data that only considers a subset of recruits, is just plain wrong.”

Paul Jackson, Chief Executive of EngineeringUK, says: “The situation is a lot more nuanced than Smith and Gorard suggest. Skills shortages do exist in particular areas, notably in power engineering, petrochemicals, systems engineering and advanced manufacturing.

“Talented students who have the potential to be our future graduate engineers must not be put off by the headline-grabbing statistics taken from this research, rather than looking at the detail of the situation. The key message from this research is the challenge to the engineering community to ensure that our degree programmes continue to meet the future needs of industry.

“The reason that the government is so focused on engineering and science and has tried to preserve funding in these areas is because they are critical, both to rebalancing the economy and creating an infrastructure fit for the future. Between them, the engineering and manufacturing sectors generate 25% of UK turnover. The future lies in an innovation economy based on new industries, such as green energy, nanotechnology and plastic electronics, where many of the key advances have been made in Britain.”