The biggest challenges facing the engineering sector

Jemma Smith, Editor
September, 2021

The engineering sector has its share of issues. Learn more about three pressing challenges and what's being done to overcome them

It's no secret that the engineering industry is struggling against a widespread skill and staff shortage. Technology is developing rapidly, and the global population is growing apace. It's in the hands of current and future engineers to maintain and sustain many crucial aspects of our lives.

'Ensuring that we have enough people with the right skills and experience is about bringing a greater number and greater diversity of young people into engineering,' says Dr Hilary Leevers, CEO of EngineeringUK. 'We also need to upskill and reskill the current workforce for the current and future workplace - this includes digital skills and the ability to think and work across traditional disciplinary boundaries.'

While the need to recruit fresh talent into the industry is a pressing concern, it isn't the only challenge that the sector is facing.


There's no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in great change for all industries and employers, and the engineering sector is no exception.

Dr Leevers highlights how engineers stepped up to the challenge through the development and manufacture of ventilators and PPE, the conversion of conference centres into hospitals, the speeding up of COVID testing and tracking and searching for a vaccine.

'In their response to the crisis, engineers demonstrated their expertise, agility and innovation and lessons learned from the crisis will continue to inform the recovery and mitigate against future outbreaks,' adds Dr Leevers.

Dr Leevers explains how engineering, manufacturing and technology provide a breadth of exciting careers that can bring job security alongside societal value. 'These sectors have been relatively resilient to the impacts of the pandemic and should only become stronger. The government's recent 'Plan for Jobs' seeks to create thousands of jobs in new infrastructure, decarbonisation and maintenance projects that will upgrade our hospitals, schools and road network, make public buildings greener and help the UK achieve its aspirations of achieving Net Zero by 2050 - all of these efforts will require engineers.'


'Engineering is a varied, stimulating and important career but we need to work harder than ever to ensure that it's a career choice that's accessible for the next generation of young people - not just for their own life chances but so we have a diverse and insightful workforce that enables the UK to thrive,' says Dr Leevers.

It's generally agreed upon that in order to inspire young people into engineering, the sector as a whole needs to improve the quality, targeting, inclusivity and reach of activities designed to attract talent to the industry.

'At EngineeringUK we're working with others to drive a new era of engagement so our collective impact can change at scale. We're looking carefully at what needs to happen for us to have the impact we want - more diverse young people considering a career in engineering,' adds Dr Leevers.

Tomorrow's Engineers Code is a commitment to common goals covering how organisations fund, design, deliver and learn from engineering-inspiration activities. This is a growing community committed to increase the diversity and number of young people entering engineering careers.

'It's encouraging to see nearly 200,000 more women working in engineering over the last four years. Nevertheless, the fact that women represent only 14.5% of those working in engineering is a serious concern. Women make up half the population, but we draw on such a small proportion of their talent - we, and the engineering sector as a whole, need to work harder to drive change.'

A number of initiatives exist to encourage girls to study engineering:

  • Ada Lovelace Day celebrates women in STEM, held annually on the second Tuesday of October. The day is commemorated by a live event, Ada Lovelace Day Live!, where women are encouraged to share stories, comedy sketches or musical pieces with a STEM focus. The day includes events around the world, and men and women alike are encouraged to write about women in STEM on a public platform - via social media, blogging or in print.
  • The Women's Engineering Society (WES) holds conferences celebrating women in engineering, including their International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) on 23 June each year. The society also offers a mentoring programme for women in STEM and holds an annual awards scheme, WE50, recognising 50 influential women in engineering.
  • The WISE campaign aims to increase the participation, contribution and success of women in STEM by providing support for teachers, staff, STEM ambassadors and students. Its Ten Steps programme helps firms recruit and retain women.

Discover more opportunities for women in engineering.

Raising awareness of engineering careers

'Our research shows that young people who know more about what engineers do are more likely to perceive the profession in a positive way and to consider a career in engineering - in fact, young people attending a STEM careers activity were over three times as likely to consider a career in engineering than those who had not,' explains Dr Leevers.

Sharing insights on what works well in terms of designing and targeting engineering outreach, committing to developing high quality activities and giving young people a reliable platform to access them, will help raise awareness of engineering careers.

'Through campaigns (Tomorrow's Engineers Week) and awareness days (International Women in Engineering Day) we have the opportunity to showcase the breadth and excitement of engineering,' adds Dr Leevers.

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