In the world of manufacturing and engineering, STEM skills are vital to the future success of companies like ENL and many others in the industry. In this blog, ENL Group discusses the importance of STEM skills and how the UK’s STEM skills shortage can be tackled.
At ENL Group, we rely on skilled engineers to produce the high-quality components that our customers’ businesses rely on.
This is why, like many other firms in the UK manufacturing sector, we want to make sure that there is a pipeline of skilled employees that will allow the UK engineering industry to continue to grow and deliver for the nation. However, action must be taken to address the UK’s engineering skills gap for this to happen.
A Long Term Challenge
This is a problem that policymakers and employers have struggled with for decades. Solving it will not be a quick fix, but that does not mean that we should not be taking action.
A famous Chinese proverb says, “the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is today.” Like a tree, a skills pipeline takes decades to develop. If we want to have skilled engineers in 20 years, we need to take action in schools and colleges from today.
What are STEM Skills?
STEM is an acronym that stands for “science, technology, engineering and mathematics.” This covers a range of subjects and sectors, from civil engineering to biosciences to statistics. It also covers different branches of engineering – electrical, mechanical, chemical and many more besides.
At ENL, most of our production processes depend on having skilled engineers who can make the tools that we need for our high-tech moulding process. This is a specialist role that is in demand from a wide range of advanced manufacturing companies in the UK and worldwide.
We do what we can to develop and support the skills pipeline as a company. For instance, for over a decade, we have been taking on apprentices who benefit from on-the-job training, college day release and focused personal development. Many of our current staff started their journey with the business as apprentices, using it as a springboard to a successful career in UK engineering.
But ultimately, individual company approaches such as this can only go so far. The root cause of the STEM skills shortage goes far beyond what anyone manufacturer can address. Instead, it requires coordinated action from schools, colleges, universities, industry, and government.
The STEM Skills Shortage
The UK’s STEM skills shortage is not new. For decades, it has been the focus of political, policy, and industry debate. It is estimated to cost employers an astonishing £1.5 billion each year in additional training costs, recruitment, temporary staffing and salary inflation. This is a cost that is ultimately borne by customers, which means that addressing the nation’s STEM skills shortage is in everyone’s interests.
However, the jobs market is dynamic, changing much more quickly than skills providers can keep up with. STEM jobs are growing much faster than jobs in other sectors. New roles are expected to double in the next ten years, meaning this is a skills gap that the UK desperately needs to close if it is to remain competitive. Standing still is simply not good enough. We need to take action now to ensure that we are building the workforce of tomorrow.
If we fail to do so, it is not just companies like our own that will suffer. The wider economy will too. STEM skills are recognised as being vital to economic development and international competitiveness. In a recent employer survey, over half of respondents agreed that “a lack of talent could put off foreign investment.” As the national economy recovers from the pandemic, this is an investment that the UK can ill afford to miss out on.
Creating a Diverse Workforce
One of the ways that we can start to address the STEM shortage is by recognising that, for too long, engineering has had a workforce that does not fully reflect today’s society. This is something that is an issue of education rather than recruitment practices, as we wrote about recently.
For instance, women currently make up an astonishingly low 19% of all students on higher education engineering courses. This has resulted in the UK having the lowest participation of women in the engineering workforce in Europe.
The skills gaps we face, particularly as a generation of experienced engineers heads towards retirement, are that we can no longer afford to recruit from just one part of the gene pool as an industry. Creating a more diverse engineering workforce is not just the right thing to do for society. It is the right thing to do for business too.