It’s a subject that comes up on a constant loop; the engineering skills shortage and how the whole industry can best tackle it. Progress is being made, with wide spread diversity and STEM campaigns targeting women and young people to see engineering as a genuinely varied, creative and valuable career which is full of opportunities. Also, companies like Mott McDonald and Crossrail are investing heavily in apprenticeship and study sponsorship programmes which is without doubt providing a great flow of engineers into the industry.
However, many areas of engineering require candidates to hold a higher level of education, and this could be a huge stumbling block in filling the skills gap, particularly if the latest report released from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, ‘Higher Education funding in England: past, present and options for the future’, is anything to go by.
One of the key headlines from this study was the mind blowing levels of debt that students now graduate with. On average students graduate with £50,000 of debt, with students from the poorest backgrounds accruing closer to £57,000 from a 3 year course. This is attributed to high fees and large maintenance loans that university students now face.
This is an eye watering statistic for hopeful students and their families, and certainly puts a huge barrier in the way for budding engineers, particularly when you consider the costs that might come after, in terms of professional accreditations. As a parent myself, with a daughter brimming full of enthusiasm about her next school year, I do feel somewhat panicked about whether it will be feasible for her to get through university, particularly with a set of twins as well.
However, it’s fair to say that degree, masters and PHD educated engineers do earn more than their peers, as outlined in, ‘it pays to pass your exams’. One engineer with over 24 years of experience commented; “I read your article with interest. From my experience in recent years, employers like to promote staff with professional rather than just academic qualifications - where practical experience and responsibility is key. I would say that an annual fee of £720 per annum in 1996-9 for a degree course was definitely worth it - especially as it was paid for by my employer as part of my apprenticeship. Would I recommend a degree course to young engineers starting out today with an inflated cost of 10k/annum - I doubt it”.
What are your thoughts about astronomical student debt and engineering skills shortages? Are apprenticeship schemes the answer? Or could engineering clients work in partnership with universities to subsidise courses or provide grants to ease the burden on students?
We’d really appreciate your comments.