Opinion: Education in the manufacturing and engineering sector

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Laura-Jane Todd

Engineering and manufacturing is responsible for a significant sum towards the UK economy as one of the largest economic sectors. In 2014 alone, the engineering sectors contributed an estimated £455.6 billion to the Gross Domestic Product – 27% of the total UK GDP. They are also responsible for an estimated 5.7 million jobs in the UK – 19% of the total UK employment.

To continue the success of the industry, it is vital to improve its perception amongst the younger generation to encourage them to pursue a career in the industry. Thankfully, young people’s perceptions have become more positive over recent years.

In 2016, 51% of 11-16 year olds said they would consider a career in engineering – a significant increase on 41% in 2012. This shift towards a more positive perception of the industry could be thanks to the influence of parents and teachers at school. 96% of teachers would recommend a career in engineering to their pupils, and three quarters of parents view engineering positively as a career.

Here, specialists in injection moulding, Omega Plastics, who have just launched their own education programme in manufacturing and engineering, investigate further what education is available for careers within the industry.

Apprenticeship programmes

In 2016/17, the engineering and manufacturing technologies sector experienced around 74,000 apprenticeship starts, pushing them into the top five most popular apprenticeship sectors. In fact, they have remained in the fourth position since 2010.

Unfortunately, figures suggest that almost a third of apprentices in the UK fail to make it to the end of their apprenticeship and complete the programme. Overall success rate for apprenticeships has taken a decline to around 68.9% when compared to 2010 when it was at 76.4%. So, what do the figures look like for engineering and manufacturing? Is the decline apparent here too?

In 2014/15, 58,000 engineering apprenticeships were achieved in England, 42% of them at Level 3 or above. However, despite no official figures, we can assume that the 2016/17 success rate figures for engineering apprenticeships has continued to rise now that there are over a quarter of a million workplaces offering apprenticeship programmes, a 50% increase over the past five years. Furthermore, four out of five manufacturing employers are reported to be planning to recruit manufacturing and engineering apprentices in the next year.

The industry is experiencing a shortfall in engineering graduates.

Higher education

Unfortunately, the industry is experiencing a shortfall in engineering graduates. The future forecast predicts that we will need 265,000 skilled entrants per year to meet the demand for engineering enterprises until 2024. However, currently, we are experiencing a shortage of 20,000 graduates.

That said, trends also reveal that there has been nearly a 5% growth in the number of applicants to engineering courses over the past year, greater than the 2.7% experienced across all subjects, with gains in all its sub-disciplines except electrical and electronic. Likewise, 71% of those applicants entering a first degree in engineering and technology are from UK origin.

The success rate in employment for engineering students is impressive too, with a significant number of graduates securing a role in the industry after completely their degree. 68% of UK first degree engineering graduates are in full-time work six months after graduation and 84% are in full-time work three years after graduation, with only 2% unemployed.

With 650,000 engineering enterprises in the UK and still rising, it is expected that the demand for skilled candidates will continue, and possibly even increase. Improving the perception of the industry is vital to the continuous success of the industry, as well as appropriate training. However, if the figures discussed here are anything to judge by, the engineering and manufacturing sectors don’t have much to worry about in this department.

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