Recently published statistics have shown that, at 4 per cent, unemployment within the UK is at its lowest level since the early 1970s and that there are more people in work in the country than ever before.
The tight labour market, combined with rapid technological developments in a number of industries, has resulted in many sectors in the UK economy facing potential skills shortages.
The UK’s engineering and manufacturing sector is at the forefront of these shortages, with research published in 2018 by EngineeringUK highlighting that 61% of UK businesses are not confident there will be enough people with the skills to fill their high-skilled job vacancies in the future.
Whilst the UK has succeeded in significantly increasing the number of young people attending university, many are not in STEM subjects that are in the highest demand from some employers, particularly within the engineering sector.
There are multiple routes into high-value jobs within engineering via apprenticeships and other vocational schemes that do not require a university degree. There are also increasing numbers of degree apprenticeships that enable young people to take a degree (at no cost to them) while working. However, in many cases young people are not made aware of these opportunities early enough in their school careers, with a recent survey showing that 58% of 11-14-year olds knew little to nothing, about apprenticeships.
Even if they are made aware of apprenticeships and vocational training options, young people will still need to have received some grounding in STEM subjects at school in order to get the most out of a technical apprenticeship scheme.
Also, the views of parents can be a disincentive to young people choosing apprenticeships. A Demos report in 2015 showed that while over 9 in 10 parents agree that apprenticeships are a good option for young people, only a third think it is best for their child.
Combine all these factors with a persistent under-representation of women taking STEM subjects, and you can start to see some of the reasons behind the skills shortages facing the UK engineering sector.
At BAE Systems we have always prioritised our commitment to nurturing talent and developing high end skills for the future.
We spend approximately £90m a year on education, skills and early careers activities and have around 2,000 apprentices in training at any given time.
We have recently announced that we will be recruiting nearly 700 apprentices in 2019 – a 30% increase in last year.
However, we recognise that these initiatives alone are not enough if we are to ensure there is a strong pipeline of young people to fill vacancies on our training schemes.
We think it is vital that pupils at schools are given a wider understanding of the potential career opportunities that will be available to them through studying STEM-related subjects.
That is why we support events such as The Big Bang and WorldSkills UK Live, which each attract around 70,000 young people each year. Our flagship Schools Roadshow, which we deliver with the RAF and Royal Navy, reached an amazing 120,000 primary and secondary school children in 2018, bringing to life the importance of STEM subjects through a fun and live interactive theatre show focused on learning and education.
In addition to these activities, we believe that work experience is critical and we offer circa 400-500 work placements for young people aged 14-16 each year as well as c100 internships for undergraduates.
We also actively encourage collaboration across the engineering sector to help address this skills gap. We have for example worked with the RAF, Royal Navy, Airbus, Rolls Royce and SME companies on the development of over 20 new Apprenticeship Standards to create new routes into engineering careers at all levels.
The engineering sector is a vital driver of the UK’s wealth and economic performance and offers a range of high-value and rewarding career opportunities. Addressing the UK’s skills gap is a significant challenge, however focused action by companies, combined with partnerships that build links between employers, education institutions and the government are delivering significant benefits.
While difficulties remain, I believe that, from a skills perspective, there are real grounds for an optimistic future for the UK engineering and manufacturing sector.
Our apprenticeship recruitment window is now open across all areas of the business. You can apply for one of our 25 award winning programmes here: www.baesystems.com/apprentices.