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Fast-growth engineering and technology industries compete to attract top skills and talent

27 November 2014


Six exciting fast-growth engineering and technology industries – space, robotics, 3D printing, new energy networks, food manufacturing and cyber security – could significantly boost the UK economy, says the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), but action is needed now to ensure that skills shortages and lack of investment do not hamper their potential.

A new report from the IET, Ones to Watch, singles out six of the UK’s most promising and innovative engineering and technology industries where the UK is already among the global leaders – or has the potential to achieve that position in the near future. Eleven senior-level representatives from the six industries put forward a compelling case for why these industries represent an enormous opportunity for the UK to build businesses with global capability – and create new jobs that can grow the UK economy.  

But, the report argues, to achieve their full potential, there are also some shared challenges to overcome:

Competition for skills:

There are a number of engineering skills common across all of the industry areas, which means these industries will effectively be competing with each other for the best people. This comes at a time when competition for the same skills from other areas of the economy is growing both within the UK and globally.

Skills transformation:

Engineers and technicians will need to train, transform and acquire new skills to grow with these fast-developing industries.

Investment:

Although the six industries are already approaching maturity, all need urgent and sustained further investment to make them truly fit for the future.

Faster adaption of new technology:

Much of the potential of these industries lies in the ability of large and small businesses to identify and embed innovation in their businesses more quickly.

Diversity:

To remain competitive in the future it is clear all organisations must tap into a more diverse talent pool. That means more women, who are largely absent in each of the industries, and people from a wider range of backgrounds. Diversity is vital to serving global markets, driving innovation and attracting new talent.

Nigel Fine, IET Chief Executive, said: “This report shows that these promising and exciting industry areas offer the UK tremendous opportunity for growth and global leadership. But we also hear straight from the horse’s mouth that the biggest barrier to that growth is meeting the need for high numbers of engineers and technicians with an increasingly transformational skillset – especially as these industries grow and new jobs are created.

“Government and employers in these industries will need to engage with each other – and with all stages of the education system to produce a talent pipeline with appropriate skills and talent. Investment and faster adaption of new technology are also important factors for them to address.

“We need to act now. The last thing we want to happen is that these innovative new industries fail to achieve their potential because they don’t have the skills, talent, technology and investment they need to grow.”

Dave Openshaw, Future Networks Senior Advisor, UK Power Networks, said: “Engineers have a natural ability to respond to stretching challenges and find innovative cost-effective solutions. Their role in leading the transformation of our electricity networks will be critical to the future prosperity of the UK.”

Alan Gooding, Managing Director, Smarter Grid Solutions, said: "What we really need are people who can go deep into IT systems."

Patrick Wood, Engineering and Operations Director, Airbus Defence and Space, said: “Getting highly qualified individuals to apply is not the issue. There is no shortage of people who want to work in the industry. But they need to be able to think in systems and engineering terms and apply that to software design.”

Stephen Kyle-Henney, Managing Director, TISICS, said: “The main challenge in the space industry is for SMEs seeking to supply larger players, where a catch 22 situation exists. To win the orders you need to prove you have a production facility. To build a production facility you need finance which needs a robust order book.

"TISICS has been fortunate to link into the Engineering Doctorate scheme run through the University of Surrey, we have three post graduate engineers based in house and access to the Universities facilities, the students get a four year hands on placement to get business and industrial skills alongside their doctorate, this is a great training scheme and way for SMEs to interact with Academia.

"We need engineers and manufacturing staff with hands on skills as well as academic qualifications. You cannot build high quality hardware without excellently trained  people. TISICS has been invited to work with the Space Studio West London which will train 14 to 18 year olds for the space sector. If industry want the skills, we must help students gain them"

Professor Tim Watson, Director of the Cyber Security Centre, WMG, University of Warwick, said: “As the concept of cyber security widens out to embrace physical systems, this will be reflected in demand for engineering skills. We will need engineers with expertise that combines areas such as materials science and electromagnetism with cyber security."

Dr Phil Reeves, Managing Director, Econolyst, said: “The supply of skilled people is linked to demand and that in turn is closely tied to industry, Government and public awareness of the key threats and necessary counter-measures. There is some way to go here and we can’t get too far ahead of the demand curve.

“Technologies that are not cost effective today, may be cost effective next year or in five or ten years and it is very important that all businesses understand the long-term benefits and implications.

“We have a foothold in this technology and it is clear that it will grow. Despite that we are already in danger of lagging behind. It is vital that UK companies and also engineers and scientists remain ahead of the curve, sustaining investment and building skills which will be at the heart of the future of manufacturing in the next decade.”

David Hobin, Consultant, Hobin Consultancy, said: “In many respects we need transferable engineering skills of the type that you would also see in, say, the nuclear or car industries. However, there will also be a requirement for additional knowledge of food biology and chemistry.

“Engineering in this sector will play an important part in providing higher yields sustainably. As such, the contribution of engineers will not only help protect the UK and the world from the economic impact of ‘food price shocks’, it will also assist in securing the wellbeing of hungry populations.”

Rich Walker, Managing Director, Shadow Robots, said: “Robotics and autonomous intelligent systems are areas of science in which the UK has world class expertise, but to reap the full benefits for the economy and society we need to get better at applying the technology to industry.

“An ageing society, food harvesting, nuclear decommissioning, manufacturing competitiveness: robotics is, I think, the only industry that can speak to all of those challenges.”

Media enquiries to:

Hannah Kellett
External Communications Manager

Tel: +44 (0)1438 767336
Mob: +44 (0)7738 602426
Email: HKellett@theiet.org

Notes to editors:

  • Interview opportunities are available with IET spokespeople from a broad range of engineering and technology disciplines including cyber-security, energy, engineering skills, innovation, manufacturing, technology, transport and women in engineering.
  • The IET is one of the world’s largest engineering institutions with nearly 160,000 members in 127 countries. It is also the most multidisciplinary – to reflect the increasingly diverse nature of engineering in the 21st century. Energy, transport, manufacturing, information and communications, and the built environment: the IET covers them all.
  • The IET is working to engineer a better world by inspiring, informing and influencing our members, engineers and technicians, and all those who are touched by, or touch, the work of engineers.
  • We want to build the profile of engineering and change outdated perceptions about engineering in order to tackle the skills gap. This includes encouraging more women to become engineers and growing the number of engineering apprentices.