Engineering skills shortage: why low employer brand awareness is costing SME’s

by | Nov 5, 2019 | Good news | 0 comments

This year I’ve spoken with hundreds of Directors of manufacturing firms.

Way too many times I have been told “not enough young people want to start a career in engineering”.

This year I must also have spoken to in excess of 2,000 young people from High Schools, Sixth Forms and Colleges that wanted to start a career in Engineering.

I have spoken to these young people at school Careers Fairs, Workshop events Next Gen Makers have delivered at schools and colleges and other manufacturing/ engineering focused careers-based events that I’ve been present or promoting at.

Many of these students wanted to find Apprenticeships and asked where a good place would be to look or recommendations for a company.
Not a week goes by without somebody also contacting me to say “my nephew/niece/son/daughter wants to find an Engineering Apprenticeship, do you know a company….”.

I find this all incredibly frustrating to hear, knowing that every year we are around 20,000 young engineers short in the West Midlands alone – and somebody that is passionate about helping to reverse this.

According to a 2019 Make UK Education & Skills Survey this year, 72% of manufacturers plan to recruit an Apprentice in the next 12 months and 58% cited 16-18 as the age at which they look to start Apprentices in their company. A further 33% replied 19-21 years of age.

Young people want to get into engineering, companies need young engineers.

At a recent careers event, a 16-year-old female student came up to me and said she wanted to start an engineering apprenticeship and knew that she wanted to “make things”. But again, she was unaware of companies where she could find an Engineering Apprenticeship.

This has happened quite a lot.

What’s going wrong then?

Herein lies what I believe to be one of the root causes of the engineering skills shortage…

Young people increasingly are wanting to become Engineers, they just have very limited knowledge of engineering/manufacturing employer brands.

Of the 2,000 odd young people I’ve spoken to, hardly any of them understood how manufacturing supply chains worked and the kind of companies that exist in them. How would they?

These students know the big employer brands like Jaguar Land Rover, Rolls Royce, Aston Martin etc, but most know few others aside from those.

When I talk about the type of companies that comprise our manufacturing supply chains, the reaction is often “wow that sounds cool, do they have apprenticeships too”.

I agree that engineering is very complex, multi-disciplined and spread across a broad range of sectors.

There are also multiple pathways from school, sixth form, college and university to get into the sector too.

But I don’t accept that this should stop a young person from pursuing engineering Apprentice with an SME.

From what I see and hear, it is evident that great progress has been made in young people understanding the disciplines and sectors of engineering. At one October school Careers Fair, I lost count of the number of year 7,8 and 9 students that tole me they were interested in “mechanical engineering”.

Yes more can and will be done too.

So how do aspiring engineers know these household employer brands but not so much those of manufacturers in supply chains?
Same reason why people incorrectly think “nothing is made here anymore”.

I exhibit at an engineering careers fair or an event at a school or college, who is there?

Those same, household blue chip employer brand names. Why? Because it works.

Most firms that make up our manufacturing supply chains are not present to be seen at the Careers Fair’s and the school and college events, so they don’t create the same brand awareness as the blue chip employers that are.

Why aren’t they present?

Time, staffing, contacts, never thought about it, not succession planning shop floor workforce so haven’t yet identified the need for Apprentices. And so on.

Low awareness of employer brands = low applicants for apprenticeship positions.

Low applicants for apprenticeship positions = small talent pool.

Recruiting from a small talent pool = hit and miss recruitment and retention success, often choosing from individuals that are not completely ‘sold’ on the idea of working for the company or even in that industry.

When factoring in recruitment, training, staffing costs and other factors, I was told recently by a company director that she estimates the average cost of an incomplete apprenticeship/ an apprenticeship not working out for her company, to be “around £15,000 per apprentice”.

Whether this is precise or not, it does seem a huge cost to bear. Let alone having to start over again in her efforts.

Reverse the awareness issue, position yourselves as an attractive employer to work for and we go a long way to creating a larger talent pool of higher quality potential engineering apprentices.

More young people ‘sold’ on an apprenticeship and a career at your company or in your industry before they start is key.

In doing so in greater numbers, we will also collectively inspire more young people to consider a career in manufacturing, which in turn benefits the sector, our local economy and creates more career prospects for young peopl

Adam Tipper
Director, Next Gen Makers

About Next Gen Makers:

Next Gen Makers helps to make it easier for manufacturing and engineering companies regardless of their size, to attract and recruit engineering apprentices + inspire more local young people to pursue a career in engineering. We do this through organised and targeted activity at our College and School partners. Interested in learning more? Complete this short form and we will be back in touch within 24 hours.