Whenever we visit a site, we fully expect to be dealing with onsite engineers who are in the latter stages of their careers. We’re talking in particular about mechanical engineers and mechanical fitters. We certainly never encounter anyone fresh out of school or university and rarely even someone in their 30s.

The issue extends into the computer side of engineering too which is a huge cutting-edge area. Yet, PLC engineers/programmers working with programme logic controllers on site are rarely starting out in their careers. Conversations we have had suggest that younger people prefer sitting at desks coding on PCs, rather than setting up controls in factory and warehouse sites – this one baffles us since we love being out and about in the thick of it!

 

Why there are so many missing engineers

From 1981, British manufacturing faced a really tough time. Jobs in manufacturing declined 21% from 1981 – 1991, 15% from 1991 – 2001, and 33% from 2001 – 2011[1]. Finally, thanks to changes in economic policy, the sector in terms of jobs is increasing but the damage is done. Lots of people saw British manufacturing being passed up in favour of factories in developing nations and stayed away. This created a huge skills gap across these periods.

Apprenticeships also contributed to the shortage. These declined from the mid-70s which prevented a lot of people from gaining the practical skills to become engineers. This lack of skilled technical entrants is sometimes termed the ‘missing middle’.

 

Hopefully things are now on the up

The government is now focusing on a huge STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) drive in the British education system. Certainly, if you talk to many GCSE or A-Level students about what sort of job they would like to do, engineering in all of its glorious forms features heavily in their aspirations. There are also specific initiatives to get more females and diversity into STEM.

In 2022, some 22.8% of degrees in Great Britain were in STEM subjects[2]. Whilst this doesn’t sound too bad, if you compare it to India at 34% or Germany at 36.2% you start to see that we are not quite keeping up the new flow of potential engineers. But it’s better than it was and hopefully this new generation of mechanical, manufacturing, and computer science engineers are employed before all the people we deal with retire!

 

Get in touch if you’d like to chat with us about engineering, conveyors or to see how we could help your operations.

 

[1] Source LSE

[2] Data from Statista

 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio