The human touch

HR, employment law and your workplace

Are skills shortages just a figment of manufacturers' imaginations?

by Fiona Hobbs, Head of HR & Legal Membership Services 13. September 2011 13:35

The latest research from Birmingham University suggests that skill shortages in STEM occupations are just a figment of manufacturers’ imaginations.

Their report suggests that only 46% of 2009 engineering graduates were in jobs related to their degrees. The rest were either in a non-engineering related graduate position or in non-graduate employment.

The conclusion is that the shortage thesis is wrong.

I’m not so sure and I checked their findings with our Chief Economist, Lee Hopley. Her response was straightforward - "I’ll see Birmingham University’s supply statistics and raise them some demand side facts".

Lee pointed to an EEF survey on the modern manufacturing workforce published earlier this year which showed:

  • Over the next five years a massive 69% of manufacturers expect to be facing problems recruiting production-related engineering skills.
  • Over a third are not confident that they will be able to find the design skills and technical skills they require for their R&D activities.
  • Managers for manufacturing operations are also expected to be thin on the ground, with 25% of companies expecting to have difficulties recruiting them in the next five years.

Are manufacturers concerned? Yes. Another survey showed that for 62% of EEF members, difficulties in attracting and retaining the right skills poses one of the biggest challenges to growth over the next twelve months.

As ever, looking behind the headlines the real story is never quite so straightforward.

UK manufacturers are innovative, customer-driven and globally focused. Their competitive strength hinges on their design and development capabilities, quality and customer service. The breadth of these activities, many of which are carried out in the UK and central to our broader economic recovery, needs a host of specialist science, engineering and technical skills. But the pipeline of young people with the right STEM foundations and an awareness of the opportunities that a career in manufacturing can offer has diminished over the past decade.

If we are to succeed in rebalancing our economy we have to do much, much more to reverse this trend.


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