At the last count, 182,000 people with engineering skills are needed each year by 2022 if we’re to fill the growing engineering skills gap in the UK. Apprentices, in addition to a doubling of the number of engineering graduates entering the sector, will be critical to this if we’re to succeed.
However, there have been questions for some time over the quality of apprentice training. Whereas a graduate has been trained to a set degree standard, the effectiveness of apprentice schemes can vary greatly – with some critics comparing modern apprenticeships to nothing more than admin or work experience, as opposed to a formal training course.
We’re pleased to say that our experiences of other firms within our industry have been, overall, very positive, and our own apprentice training scheme is going from strength to strength. We do hear the odd horror story every now and again though.
So, is there a way around substandard training? To be blunt, yes, there is, through introducing formal qualifications that require a specific standard of competence to be achieved. These would replace the National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) that apprentices currently work towards and would essentially represent a mark of quality for employers.
This is certainly an idea supported by industry. In a recent poll conducted by The Engineer, 78% of respondents agreed that formal qualifications are required. Interestingly, only 12% believe that industry should advise on – but not implement – training standards. 9%, on the other hand, believed no formal qualifications are needed, but instead industry should develop its own standards.
At this point in time there appears to be no intent by UK Government to step in and introduce formal qualifications. However, with the skills gap quickly morphing into a skills chasm, it may be only a matter of time until the legislators heed the advice of the engineering industry.
Until then, it falls to experienced engineers like ourselves, through our apprentice training programme, to continue passing on our knowledge to the next generation and ensuring they have the expertise required to overcome the engineering challenges of the future.