November 2018 marked the 5th anniversary of Professor John Perkins' Review of Engineering - a report originally commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Professor John Perkins CBE (Chief Scientific Advisor to the BIS at the time) was assigned the task of authoring the report on engineering training opportunities and the subsequent skills shortage within the UK. Taking 2 years to prepare, the 2013 report shed light on a definite engineering skills shortage and the effects this was having on the UK economy in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
Fast forward 5 years to 2019 and, as is the case with most groundbreaking reports and reviews, the Perkins Review gets a revisit. This time under the development of the Royal Academy of Engineering. Big questions will be asked and subsequently answered in the follow-up. How are we progressing? Have we taken the knowledge gained from the review and made the necessary pivotal changes? Are the situation and circumstances the same as they were in 2013? As one would expect after a period of 5 years, there would be some degree of change. Surely.
Since 2013, technical and vocational education has indeed taken steps forward. Significant leaps. Changes of note include the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy and the productivity-boosting Industrial Strategy. We've also seen new apprenticeship standards and now await the introduction of T Levels, the government's new qualification geared towards meeting the needs of industry and preparing students for work. We have also seen a shift forward with regard to teaching practices with an emphasis on teaching staff, not solely attracting more students.
Engineering has been made more attractive through the adoption of innovative, project-based and teamwork focussed approaches. The latest figures from EngineeringUK reveal that there are an estimated six million people currently working in engineering and technology roles across all sectors. As far as annual requirements go, EngineeringUK estimates a need for 124,000 engineers with Level 3+ skills to adequately 'meet core engineering roles to 2024'
The skills gap has been around for centuries and gets further emphasised throughout each industrial revolution. We are currently up to Industry 4.0 and things are no different. The apparent jumps in development in technology over the past five years since the original review have triggered concerns over a widening skills gap. At Enginuity, we devote considerable time to looking at how we can contribute to lessening that gap, but the reality is, it will never close completely, and certainly not in a time when technology and digitalisation are advancing at such a fast pace. Current figures show a predicted annual shortfall of between 37,000 and 59,000. Of course, this figure may seem startling but the truth is there has always been a certain degree of skills shortage in engineering. As the report states "...the rapid pace of technology development in industry combined with the length of time to fully train qualified engineers and technicians means that it is impossible to fill all engineering skills gaps in the near term."
Whereas education and training were at one time paraphrased by the 3 Rs, to summarise the pathway forward we will need to focus on the 2 Rs: Retraining and Retaining. The pressures of new technology, automation and artificial intelligence alongside political changes such as Brexit have unveiled a distinct need for upskilling and retraining across all engineering sectors. Equal levels of focus need to be allocated to both keeping and equipping the current workforce for the future whilst still recruiting the young engineers of tomorrow. Responsibility also lies with employers and engineering bodies such as Enginuity, EAL and the Royal Academy of Engineering. This is a great opportunity for them to work in collaboration towards common solutions. One area where this is already happening is Enginuity 's own development - Engineering Talent – the apprenticeship matching service which also facilitates the upskilling and retraining of current workers.
As the Perkins Review states, "It is also important to avoid short-termism, the focus should be on building fundamental career-oriented skills rather than simply trying to get someone into their next role." This is why Enginuity is dedicating our development to creating an industry that combines traditional and new talent in a way for a workforce to carry the industry forward into a successful and lucrative future. Another approach to lessening the skills gap has to be to make the engineering industry appealing to a much larger group of society, including women. Only 12% of the engineering workforce are women, compared to 46.9% of the rest of the UK workforce. This is no surprise when the uptake of Physics at A-Level for girls is just 7,000, which is 2–3% of the annual female figures. However, we, along with other bodies and associations, continue to work on steps that have been taken over the past five years to address the minority, such as our current project with Scottish Engineering, Equate. Equate's focus is towards small and medium-size employers across the growing engineering and manufacturing sector in Scotland providing them with specialist training on creating inclusive workplaces which attract and retain diverse candidates.
The overarching message of the review is the correct forms of accessible education, for both new entrants and existing workforces, that are the foundation to the development of a skilled and plentiful engineering workforce. This is how the UK will continue to compete in the global market and rise again to the opportunities of another industrial revolution. Throughout the last five years since the initial Perkins Review, many elements have improved, but we still have a lot to do in an ever-developing sector.
Read more of our thoughts on the Perkins Review along with the latest insights, analysis and solutions for advanced manufacturing and engineering in EAL and the Enginuity Group's RevEAL publication. Click here to download your copy.
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