We are aware of the skills gap that exists in the UK’s manufacturing sector. A 2016 report by EEF found that 35% of vacancies in the manufacturing sector were considered hard to fill with an insufficient number of skilled applicants. 2018 has been called “The Year of Engineering” with a whole host of local and national initiatives aimed at encouraging the next generation of engineers and machinists. Here are some thoughts on the best ways to go about this…
When it comes to making STEM careers more attractive to the next generation we often see promotion around new and exciting technology. Robotics, Additive Manufacturing and Aerospace are often pushed to the forefront. Although its easy to understand that these sectors are the most likely to capture the imagination and get people interested in STEM, they are not fully representative of the sector. There is certainly a perception that careers in manufacturing are dirty and old fashioned and rather than try and challenge this perception, when STEM is promoted manufacturing seems to be pushed to one side. As such many of the young people we’ve spoken to or had on work experience want to become designers or work as an jet engine engineer, where there are perhaps less opportunities than in other sectors. We have certainly seen more graduate designers without real-world experience struggle to get work. Manufacturers need to do more to challenge the perception of the industry, because there is genuine enthusiasm for more ‘hands on’ roles once kids wrap there heads around it.
Many STEM businesses are being encouraged to open their doors to schools,tours and work experience in this “year of engineering” although many businesses like ourselves will always try and accommodate this, it can be a distraction from production. Speaking of ourselves, in a machine shop environment we obviously can’t let a student run a machine. As such a large part of any work experience is largely observational. We can understand that standing and watching is not necessarily the most interesting thing in the world, and even where the supervisor or operator is trying their best to give the student information, they have to concentrate on the job in hand. As such what is meant to be a positive experience may in fact turn students off. We always try to give students a rounded view of each of the different departments, and leave them with a set of questions to type up. This gives them a reason to talk to different people within the business, and when people are busy they can swap over and do this meaning less disruption/distraction. We find that once students talk to people on the shop floor and find out about the end application of what we are making they can see that it is interesting and exciting.
One of the aims of this ‘Year of Engineering’ is to get more participation from businesses and encourage them to attend schools careers fairs etc. The problem with this is that obviously it takes time. Many businesses see it as important and do their best to help, but production schedules and paying customers make it difficult to spend an afternoon away. One small suggestion on this would be to tie in some visits with exhibitions and industry days. At the moment many exhibitions ban students as they want to focus purely on potential customers, but I think it would make sense in the last hour of a trade show etc, to invite schools to come and ask questions and talk to manufacturers. This would be a positive way to end a show, means you don;t have to arrange site visits/health and safety audits and gives students the chance to speak to a range of businesses.
B&B Precision are sub-contract manufacturers based in West Yorkshire. We have been actively involved in our local community partnering with Shelley College and taking on a number of work experience students and apprentices throughout the years.