A widening STEM skills gap is nothing new and has only become more apparent with the pandemic. The UK, for example, is facing a well-publicized 1.8 million shortfall of new engineers needed by 2025.
Companies are struggling to recruit those with the right practical skills and this problem will only increase if businesses don’t respond. It is perhaps a case of now or never for businesses to step up and share the burden of responsibility in engineering the world of tomorrow.
Typically for those 18 years and older, traditional apprenticeship programs give individuals the opportunity to learn the ropes of our industry. While post-high school career paths work for some, I firmly believe it is a case of too late for others, and think we need to drive forth that passion, skill and determination from an even earlier age.
In 2016, I set out to revolutionize the future of engineering in the UK. A lofty target some might say, but it was underpinned by what I had experienced as an apprentice myself; societal issues that still threaten the future of our industry to this day.
And so I launched a pre-apprenticeship program aimed at capturing students’ attention whilst they were still in a younger learning environment. Young people are often unaware of the options that exist for a hands-on job and lack role models and information. A pre-apprenticeship offers a route into a highly skilled, highly rewarding and high-paying career in engineering.
Because it was vital that we established a pipeline of talent to fuel our company’s ambitions and help close the STEM skills gap, we made a sustainable commitment to the community and partnered with a local high school.
Our two-year pre-apprenticeship program is aimed at 14- to 16-year-olds and designed to support progression into full-time apprenticeship. Participants spend two years working one day a week at our custom-build training facilities.
Over half of our first two years’ intake are still with our company. To date, we have generated 60 pre-apprenticeship positions.
As a growing engineering business, our workforce is projected to exceed 1,000 in the next three to four years. The underlying aim is to have 25 percent of this number recruited from our apprenticeship programs.
But this scheme is not just about contributing regionally. That’s important, but our intention has always been to garner much wider support, namely businesses of all sectors, to replicate our model and implement their own programs.
Diversity has always been an industry-wide issue to resolve, and we’ve made strides to encourage more women into the trade. Our first ever female trade apprentice has been a shining candidate in this respect and we were proud to see her named one of the top 50 female engineers in the UK at age 17 by the Women’s Engineering Society.
Apprentices are not just contributing but also driving forth our projects with some of the biggest clients in the world. Rather than being relegated to the sidelines, it’s important businesses help provide young people with the confidence and platform to play an integral role in client work.
It’s no secret that the biggest issue facing the engineering industry is skilled engineers. Our product is our people and we firmly believe that the ingredients of our success are placed in the importance of passing on our skills to the next generation.
As we look ahead to the next engineering decade under somewhat uncertain COVID-inflicted circumstances, our priority will remain the same: Fuel the pipeline, and help breed skills and prosperity by training the young engineers of tomorrow.