Challenges facing the engineering and manufacturing sector

Rachel Swain, Editorial manager
October, 2015

A world leader in the aerospace, defence and automotive sectors, the UK is having a major resurgence in engineering and manufacturing, but there are still hurdles to overcome

There is strong inward investment in the UK from global engineering companies because of our exceptional skills base. 'This is thanks to our degree programmes producing highly creative problem solvers and systems thinkers,' says Dr Rhys Morgan, director of engineering and education at The Royal Academy of Engineering.

However, we are still finding it difficult to attract the right graduates for the right roles, and this has created one of our biggest challenges…

Attracting graduate talent

Research undertaken by Warwick Institute of Employment Research for EngineeringUK estimates that between 2012 and 2022 we will need 1.6 million people working in engineering jobs. Peter Finegold, head of education and skills at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, points out that there are only around 100,000 people entering the profession at all levels each year - a shortfall of 30,000 a year.

It seems that engineering graduates are being drawn to other sectors. Of the 15,000 UK domiciled graduate engineers each year, only around 7,000 go into engineering jobs, according to The Royal Academy of Engineering. The rest go into a range of other sectors across the economy.

'While this is a good sign that engineering graduates are in high demand for their creativity, critical thinking and analytical skills, it means that our engineering companies are not recruiting sufficient numbers,' says Dr Morgan.

So, how do we fill this shortfall? You should try to undertake some kind of placement as part of your studies or during the holidays so that you can see what exciting opportunities the sector has to offer.

Also, don't just focus on blue chip companies for placements or jobs. 'Often, the kind of experience that you get at a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) will be far more varied than working at a major manufacturer,' highlights Dr Morgan. 'There is a strong possibility of much quicker promotion to more senior positions as well.'

Reducing environmental impact

Peter believes that another big challenge for the sector is adapting to the fact that we have a finite amount of resources. For example, there are concerns over the low supplies of rare earth metals used in energy-saving fluorescent lamps and hybrid car batteries. It's important that we look at products from conception all the way through to recycling, re-use or remanufacture.

'Today's engineers are solving problems in society and innovating in ever more exciting ways that are reducing humanity's impact on the planet through developing new fuels and energy sources, transportation methods, new efficient housing and food production as well as reducing wastes, creating a circular economy and cleaning up pollution,' says Peter.

It is also vital that engineers are able to share best practice and are kept abreast of cutting edge developments in different sectors to the ones they are working on. It is very common for solutions in the aerospace industry, for example, to have applications in the power generation sector or healthcare.

'The institution aims to encourage knowledge sharing between our members and the wider engineering community via our networks, events and online information,' Peter adds.

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