20 Feb 2024

How industry can attract young engineers to tackle the engineering skills shortage

Skills shortage

Martyn Williams, managing director of COPA-DATA UK, explains how industry can help to tackle the skills shortage in the sector, with just a little influencing required.

According to new research, one in five British teenagers aspire for a career as a social media influencer. The field of engineering is currently far less popular among young people.  A study by Engineering UK demonstrated that 11 to 19-year-olds have a negative perception of the engineering field, presuming the industry is “difficult, complicated and dirty.” In fact, nearly half of this age group stated that they knew very little about what engineers actually do.

The failure of engineering companies to attract young recruits is a real issue across industry and has a few contributing factors. One is geography. Because industrial jobs are no longer in economic centres for communities, young adults — from the North of England, South Wales or the Midlands for example — want to flock to London.

Another issue is that, of the young people who are interested in STEM careers, many have been misled that jobs in these fields are more closely aligned with Elon Musk than Frank Whittle, James Dyson or Ada Lovelace. None of whom, at least to my knowledge, boasted of ping pong tables and free beer Fridays in the office.

Many of today’s STEM graduates would rather work for a company like Google that they perceive as modern, clean and exciting, than in a more traditional engineering field. This is particularly prevalent in fields that are perceived as difficult, complicated and dirty, such as in oil and gas, as cited in EngineeringUK’s research.

These trends are also reflected in education. The low value placed on teaching traditional engineering skills has been an issue for a long-time. Educational establishments generally favour engineering courses relating to software or web development. What’s more, some are actually running courses on how to become social media influencers.

The result is an over-abundance of wannabe influencers and, in the engineering field, newly-qualified programmers with underused degrees in software or computer science. This is a stark contrast to the availability of graduates with traditional engineering skills. Recruiter Sterling Choice reports that the drastic lack of new skilled workers has led to increased recruitment, training and temporary staff costs, adding up to £1.5bn a year in the UK.

Social causes

So, what can manufacturers do to reverse these trends and attract more young people to the engineering industry? For a start, there needs to be greater collaboration between businesses and education. Experienced C-Level engineers could be doing a lot more to enter education establishments and teach young people about the benefits of careers in engineering. I’m taking part in the STEM Ambassador program for this very reason.

Values are also very important and something businesses should consider. According to Forbes, “The younger generation is vocal and insistent that businesses also take part in important social causes.” Increasingly, younger people seek purpose in their working lives, and they want to feel they are making a difference by working for companies with values that match their own.

For instance, A recent survey by EY found that most young people don’t wish to pursue careers in the oil and gas sector due to its negative environmental impact, but two-thirds said a job in green energy was appealing. In other words, young people today are demanding jobs that mirror their green values.

With this in mind, educators and industrial companies must collaborate to show young people how engineering and technology can positively affect social issues.

More accessible roles

So, how can industry better inform young people about the positive impact of their business? Let’s use the climate crisis as an example. Energy software, like zenon from COPA-DATA can play a crucial role in helping businesses strive towards net zero. zenon is the de facto standard software used on the UK’s offshore windfarms, including the world’s first ever floating offshore wind facility. Business leaders from other companies need to shout about projects like these to enthuse young people to join their organisation.

Young people can find plenty of opportunities in engineering that mirror their own values. That’s also why COPA-DATA is involved with the trade association GAMBICA, including its GAMBICA Young Council (GYC) to get rising stars and future leaders involved in a variety of sectors including engineering.

Through collaborations like these, education and industry can take a leaf out of the younger generation’s book and influence. Tackling the worldwide shortage of young engineers is crucial for the future of industry — and is essential to save us from another generation of influencers.

Company info: COPA-DATA UK