The UK is in danger of losing its engineering pedigree because of successive governments' failure to invest in attracting the next generation.
Engineering recruitment specialist MatchTech has called on the government to present engineering as "an industry of choice", arguing that Vince Cable’s announcement for a new industrial strategy to support high-growth sectors would not be enough to save the industry.
Keith Lewis, Matchtech's managing director, told Huffington Post UK: "It’s no secret that the industry is currently struggling to attract the next generation of engineers, but, this is not a new issue, it's simply got worse over the last couple of decades.
"In recent years we have seen successive governments paying only lip service to what actually needs to be done and, as a result, other careers such as IT have emerged as more attractive avenues."
To stop the rot, the government should start presenting engineering as an attractive industry for young graduates to choose, as well as supporting efforts from engineering groups to inspire the current generation of students.
"Matchtech has a dedicated team which goes into universities to educate and motivate graduates about choosing engineering as a career, and more of this is needed. If action is not taken now, we are at risk of losing our mantle as ‘world leader’ in engineering, an industry that has been the backbone of the UK economy for many years," Lewis said.
Britain's engineering was known as the best in the world, but that mantle is now coming under threat
Falling numbers of interested grads isn't the only problem however; more than half of Britain's existing engineers are considering moving abroad, having become disillusioned with work options here.
Research by Matchtech showed 53% of UK engineers have still lost confidence in government policy towards the industry, and 43% also said it is very possible or definite that they will move abroad for work in the next five years.
This, said Lewis, suggested the government’s recent strategies to boost engineering and other high growth industries is being implemented too little too late.
"The key thing to be addressed here is engineers’ confidence in the government, which has clearly been dented by changes in legislation and the fact many fear that major investors in the UK will abandon the country for more lucrative opportunities overseas," Lewis continued.
"The government must prioritise its focus on ensuring that policy is addressing the right issues, such as securing investment for the industry, as well as engaging with the people that really matter – the engineers – to prove to them that the industry has a thriving future ahead in this country."
Other significant findings from the survey of 1,000 engineers included:
- More than three quarters (78%) do not believe enough is being done by the Government to attract new blood into the industry
- Nearly half (46%) of UK engineers are less confident they will have a job for life compared to when they first started in engineering
- Nearly three quarters (74%) of UK engineers do not believe enough is being done by the government to encourage innovation in the UK, and
- More than two thirds (67%) do not feel confident that the UK will be a world leader in engineering in the future
There is evidence of renewed interest in the sector from young students; seeing Prince Harry take to the skies in an Apache helicopter - which British engineers maintain - was inspiring a new generation to get excited about it, according to Richard Youngs, director of business strategy at the Bourne Academy in Bournemouth.
He told local paper the Bournemouth Echo: “It’s bringing it to life and showing them that it is real.
“It is nice to see young people get inspired about something. It doesn’t matter what it is, just get inspired and if you can help them to find out what they want to do, and encourage them, then that’s fantastic.”
But its the current generation which need the most help - engineering companies are now tending to hire temporary workers for large projects and attributing the costs to the project, rather than adding to their baseline costs by hiring permanent staff.
Brain Warren, project leader for UTC Plymouth, told thisisplymouth.co.uk that the engineering and manufacturing sector accounted for 25% of the British economy and needed 2.2 million students to enter the sector every five years – but only 125,000 were doing so annually.
"There's a massive gap of people going into the industry, and India and China are way ahead of us," he told the paper.