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Skills and Education for the Future of Engineering

4 September 2019

Our Managing Director, Patrick MacDonald, summarises the results of the recent Talent 2050: Skills and Education for the Future of Engineering’ report.

Last month, a joint report was put forward by Barclays, London South Bank University, National Centre for Universities and Business, NATS, and Pearson. Entitled ‘Talent 2050: Skills and Education for the Future of Engineering’, this report highlights the need for a significant step-change in engineering industry recruitment.

If our industry is going to achieve the required supply of trained engineers by 2050; the way it approaches new talent recruitment, and the upskilling of talent from outside the industry, will be key. This changing approach would also help to ensure that the UK remains a competitive place to work in the coming decades; and attract new workers to the country.


The report highlights 3 key areas for recommendation: recruitment barriers and bottlenecks, changes to education, and supporting intersectoral mobility.


Recruitment Barriers and Bottlenecks

  1. Engineering needs to reach beyond existing STEM employees and change the perception of recruitment from the “leaky pipeline” to a “reservoir of talent”, ready to learn.
  1. Consider a more inclusive approach where recruitment or enrolment (including professional registration) is based on the potential to gain the right skills rather than previous attainment.

To date, recruitment within the engineering sector has been largely based on the ‘T-shaped’ model. This means that a base of technical knowledge is built first – the vertical part of the T – which is then supplemented with softer skills like communication, people skills and management.

The T shaped model ensures that technical knowledge is in place. However, it does also create barriers to entry for those candidates who have not pursued engineering through academic study; as well as adding a time lag – typically 4 years – while students move through the education system. A further complication is the significant shortfall of engineering graduates and technicians – according to Engineering UK’s 2018 State of Engineering report, the UK is seeing an annual shortfall of 59,000 graduates.

The authors of the report undertook various workshops over the research period, the feedback from which indicated significant potential to recruit from alternative sectors; with a focus on three ‘skills pillars’ – people skills, creative thinking and enterprise – alongside core technical knowledge.


4 pillars model from the Talent 2050 future of engineering report, showing core stem skills, creative thinking, people skills and enterprise as key pillars to build on top of schooling and digital/data understanding

4 pillars model, taken from the Talent 2050 report

Changes to Education

  1. Digital skills, including AI, and environmental protection, provide the foundation for future change and need to be fully integrated in an industrial strategy that embraces interdisciplinary working. They also need to be at the heart of future education more widely.
  1. The education system needs to embrace technology for learning, including smart phones, to prepare the next generation to access, filter and apply knowledge that is available online.

A clear message from the workshops and evidence-gathering was that essential future skills were a lot broader than are currently being taught. Feedback was that a one-third split for more traditional engineering vs two-thirds in people skills, environmental awareness, adaptability and communications, will be the norm in the future. This reinforces the need to recruit based on these skills; and add technical knowledge at a later date.

Digital skills will be an assumed skill going forward and will be a key foundation for both education and employment.

The development of UTCs (University Technical Colleges) such as North East Futures LEP in Sunderland, and industry-dedicated bodies such as the recently completed National College for High Speed Rail (NCHSR), will help to close the gap between learning and practical implementation; but we need more coordination and collaboration at a higher level to ensure this approach continues to provide what the industry needs.


Supporting Intersectoral Mobility

  1. Ensure upskilling and reskilling are fully supported for those in work, whether within the sector or bringing complementary skills through intersectoral job mobility. This should be regionally tailored and applicable to SMEs, and those in the gig economy as well as major corporations.
  1. The education and skills system needs more collaboration between the public sector (national and regional), educators and employers to share resources, set priorities together and support employees, the self-employed and those without employment in a sector or at all.

As ever, Brexit looms in the background of these discussions. If, following a departure from the EU; the UK is perceived as a less welcoming place to study or work; intersectoral mobility and recruitment will be even more key in tackling the engineering skills shortfall.

More retraining options for the existing workforce are needed; and this needs to be underpinned by collaboration between the various players – public sector, educators, and employers – to ensure retraining covers the necessary skills. Apprenticeships should address transferable 21st century skills; rather than being limited to one employer or role.

It’s clear that we need to adopt a radically different approach to training and recruitment in engineering. While the Talent 2050 report makes some excellent suggestions, we still need to figure out how we take these suggestions from ideas to implementation. This will require real collaboration between industry, government, and education providers.


At Universal Wolf, we are committed to developing our people; ensuring that they have the solid, transferrable skills and the opportunity to continue their professional development throughout their employment with us. Our recent apprentice intake – the largest in our history – will spend 3 years on rotation across the business, gaining experience in different departments to ensure they emerge from their training with an arsenal of transferable skills.

Similarly, we encourage staff to actively discuss their career aspirations; facilitating inter-departmental movement across the business supported by in-house training schools and personal development plans. Training and education on their own are not enough; and need to be coupled with an environment where respect and trust prevail. The values and culture within the business are key to attracting and retaining talent, and a huge area of focus within Universal Wolf. We live and breathe the “pack” culture, ensuring everyone feels part of the team, but also empowered and protected.