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Bridging the Divide: Tackling the Skills Gap in North East Engineering and Manufacturing

The north east engineering and manufacturing industry has long been a cornerstone of the nation’s economy, driving innovation, productivity and job creation. However, it faces a critical challenge: the growing skills gap. The skills gap refers to the mismatch between the skills required by employers and those possessed by the available workforce. It’s estimated that the cost of lost productivity due to vacancies being left unfulfilled in 2022 amounted to approximately £21 million a day in lost output for UK GDP*. To create a robust and skilled workforce, it is imperative to bridge this divide and address the skills gap.

Understanding the Skills Gap

The skills gap in engineering and manufacturing arises from several factors. Firstly, rapid technological advancements have introduced new tools, methodologies and practices, and this combined with a greater push for net zero, demands a highly skilled workforce. Unfortunately, existing education and training systems struggle to keep pace with these changes, resulting in a lack of up to date skills among workers.

Secondly, there is a perception issue surrounding careers in engineering and manufacturing. Many young people are not aware of the diverse and rewarding opportunities that these industries offer, leading to a limited pool of interested candidates. Furthermore, engineering and manufacturing sectors can sometimes struggle to attract diverse talent, including greater representation of women and individuals from underrepresented communities.

To tackle this, a multi-pronged approach is required involving collaboration between industry, education providers and government bodies. Here are some key strategies that can help bridge the divide:

Strengthening Primary School Education

Enhancing the quality and relevance of engineering and manufacturing education at an early age is crucial. This can be achieved by adjusting national curricula to align with sector developments and providing opportunities to engage with industry.

Promoting Industry-Academia Collaboration

Establishing partnerships between educational institutions and industry leaders can facilitate knowledge exchange, internships and work placements. Such collaborations provide students with real-world experiences, allowing them to develop practical skills and industry-specific knowledge.

Raising Awareness and Challenging Perceptions

Initiatives should be undertaken to promote engineering and manufacturing careers as attractive options. This can include outreach programmes in schools, highlighting success stories of industry professionals, and showcasing the diverse projects and innovations happening in these sectors.

Investing in Apprenticeships and Skills Development

According to Make UK, only 50% of nationwide manufacturers recruit apprentices, and to meet industry demands, this needs to be at least 75-80%. Apprenticeships offer a valuable avenue for individuals to gain practical skills while earning a wage. Increasing the availability and accessibility of apprenticeships can attract more young people to the industry and provide them with the necessary skills to thrive.

Government Support and Policy Reforms

The UK Government can play a crucial role in addressing the skills gap by providing funding and incentives for industry-led training programmes, supporting research and development initiatives and creating favourable policies that encourage investment in the engineering and manufacturing sectors. Industry is currently lobbying for a renewed Industrial Strategy and campaigning for a dedicated Minister for Manufacturing, with the aim of having these sectors directly represented in Parliament.

Looking to the future

Bridging the skills gap in engineering and manufacturing is a pressing challenge that demands collective action. By strengthening primary education, promoting collaboration, changing perceptions, investing in skills development, and receiving government support, it is possible to bridge the divide and create a robust, skilled workforce. Our region’s engineering and manufacturing industry relies on addressing the skills gap and ensuring that the workforce is equipped with the knowledge and expertise to continuously drive innovation, competitiveness and economic growth on a national scale.

*Make UK (2022)


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