Look around most machine workshops across the UK today, particularly amongst the SME engineering businesses that are the backbone of the British manufacturing economy and you will notice something – skilled machine operators are getting older! Sure there are some opportunities for apprentices and other shopfloor trainees however, the rate at which new blood is joining the skilled engineering workforce isn’t keeping up with the numbers of engineers who are retiring.
But isn’t the engineering market dominated by the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India & China) countries as well as other areas with low wage and production costs? Is this why the UK isn’t training new engineers?
Not all engineering demand is the same
It may well be that second and third world producers are leading the way for high volume, lower specification engineering but there is a strong demand for high specification, high value-added, service-led production which is where the UK excels, and the companies demanding this work are willing to pay to get it. But we must be able to deliver. If we don’t make sure that science and maths are encouraged at school and the value of engineering as a career choice is clearly demonstrated to today’s students, the paths to train the next generation of skilled engineers will be lost and with them, the valuable wealth creation opportunities for the UK economy
The UK cannot realistically compete at the high-volume, lower value-added end of the market, and nor should we try to, but by focusing on the meeting the demand for high quality, high service, high value-added engineering, manufacturing in the UK can have a strong and productive future.
The value of training investment
If the UK refreshes its traditional focus on delivering highly skilled engineers, it can reap the rewards of having quality engineering companies offering higher levels of engineering, delivery and service than can be achieved by the overseas competition. There is certainly the customer need out there.
Whilst this is a national issue it also impacts on individual companies. If a business can’t recruit appropriately skilled and motivated staff from national or regional education and training programmes they need to address the issue themselves if they are not to face skills shortages in years to come.
Denholms and C E Edwards are proud to have introduced our own apprenticeships schemes through which we are addressing our own recruitment needs – proper training with a proper job at the end of it for those who make the grade
The opportunities for employment and wealth creation are there but we need the commitment from the top to realise the benefit for the whole country.