How can we inspire our youth to consider an engineering career as demand for talent continues to outstrip supply?

Where will Britain’s next generation of engineers come from? It is a question many manufacturing businesses are being forced to address as demand for talent continues to outstrip supply.

For young engineers this is not necessarily a bad thing. High demand means graduates can enjoy a wage premium. But the longer-term picture should concern everyone.

If manufacturing firms can’t find the right skilled workers here in Britain they will be obliged to look overseas and many could eventually switch production facilities to markets offshore.

Engineers needed: BAE said it needs to recruit another 300-400 engineers to meet the demands of building nuclear submarines (Pictured: BAE Systems' latest submarine at its shipyard Barrow-in-Furness)

Engineers needed: BAE said it needs to recruit another 300-400 engineers to meet the demands of building nuclear submarines (Pictured: BAE Systems’ latest submarine at its shipyard Barrow-in-Furness)

The central issue is therefore how best to inspire the nation’s youth to consider engineering as a career, a specialism which undoubtedly underpins the UK’s economy as we seek to rebalance away from the powerhouse services sector.

A recent visit to BAE Systems’ shipyard at Barrow-in-Furness revealed the business needs to recruit another 300-400 engineers – graduates and apprentices – to meet the demands of building nuclear submarines.

‘If you know anyone who may be interested, tell them to give me a call,’ was the message from one veteran shipbuilder. Our aerospace and automotive sectors are better than most at luring new talent to engineering. But then they have assets such as fast jets and fast cars to show off to prospective employees.

The Aerospace Growth Partnership has made great strides in promoting the sector, has forensically examined the likely shortages and sought ways to fill the gaps to keep this key British industry as the biggest in Europe and second only to the US globally.

Some industry executives want to see the introduction of an engineering GCSE or A-Level to help feed prospective students into the system as graduates or apprentices.

Crucially students need to be encouraged in and out of the classroom to see the great successes of British industry.

The drier elements of studying mathematics or physics can be greatly enhanced by a trip to a big manufacturing plant.

Taking one example, a uniquely British project restored an example of the Cold War’s Vulcan bomber back to flight for the enjoyment of the public.

When the aircraft reaches the end of its flying life in 2015, the Vulcan to the Sky Trust plans to use this aircraft as a platform to encourage future engineers.

The plan is to use the delta-winged bomber to demonstrate design and engineering at its best.

Entrepreneur Sir James Dyson has said Britain can become a world leader in technology again, but it will need a cultural change.

We will also need to attract more women and people from minorities into industry.

As one Airbus executive described it: ‘We work in the best sector in the most exciting industry with amazing and visionary products. If we can’t inspire future generations who can?’

Special delivery

The imminent arrival of Royal Mail to the London Stock Exchange comes at a good time for equity markets with prospects for the postal service’s over-subscribed share offering already looking good.

Ahead of Tuesday’s deadline for investors to apply for shares, analysts are predicting the stock will jump when trading begins.

In City parlance, the offering looks ‘priced to go’ – sold at slightly below what analysts reckon it is worth – which will encourage investors to buy into the sale. It is a smart move after too many episodes during the boom years when the price of over-valued companies flopped soon after joining the stock market.

Recent weeks have shown London’s market for initial public offerings is resurgent. Total funds raised in the year to date topping £3billion – more than twice that raised during the whole of 2012.

Estate agent Foxtons raised £390million.

Taken with Crest Nicholson and Countrywide earlier this year, 2013 has seen more than £800million raised by the property sector alone. London Stock Exchange boss Xavier Rolet recently estimated that up to 600 companies of all sizes were eyeing the capital markets for growth funding.

A raft of private equity-backed firms looking to exit businesses will also drive IPO activity. Meanwhile the junior AIM market is reckoned to have seen more companies newly listing than the number withdrawing their plc status for the first time in six years.

Taken together, experts reckon this constitutes serious momentum. The main risk to the raft of upcoming IPOs remains a big macroeconomic shock. For now, though, the pipeline of flotations looks to be strong.



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