As the UK looks to ramp up its high value engineering, the higher education sector will play a key part in providing the talent needed to fuel growth in the sector

According to the most recent figures from industry body EngineeringUK, the engineering sector plays a key role in the economic growth of the UK, generating over 20% of its turnover in 2018. However, the same organisations also predicts a worrying shortfall in engineering skills across different qualification levels and in different engineering occupations, with up to 203,000 more workers needed in the years ahead.

"Engineering is alive and well in the UK – there is real potential for the country to consolidate its position as one of the leading centres of high-value manufacturing”  Kudzai Manduvi, Industry Sector Manager, RS Components

“The government has identified that there is huge potential for the UK to consolidate its position as one of the leading nations for high value manufacturing as it shifts away from a service-oriented economy to a more balanced one,” says Kudzai Manduvi, Industry Sector Manager at RS Components. “The problem is that while the various support and investment into research, through the catapult centres for example, is a positive step for the industry, there is still a huge gap in terms of supply and demand of the skilled workers needed to drive the industry forward.”

Coordinated effort
According to Stephanie Fernandes, Principal Policy Adviser for Education and Innovation at the IET (Institute of Engineering and Technology), there now needs to be a coordinated effort to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) skills at school and to encourage young people into a career in engineering. “It’s essential that UK companies are at the cutting edge of technology so that we continue to be seen as one of the best places for high value engineering,” she says. “STEM skills are vital when it comes to adapting to the changing nature of engineering in the digital age.

"RS is keen to support the education sector and help those institutions to attract and educate the next generation of young engineers”  Kudzai Manduvi, Industry Sector Manager, RS Components

“If the UK is to remain competitive then we need more young people being equipped with STEM skills so that they can adapt to a rapidly changing landscape and help drive the innovation we need,” Fernandes adds. “The only way to solve this skills shortage is going to be to embed science, maths, engineering and technology right the way through the curriculum from primary level through to secondary school and higher education.”

This is an area that Manduvi explains has been a key focus for RS Components in recent years. “At RS Components we are keen to support the education sector and help those institutions to attract and educate the next generation of young engineers,” he says. “For example, I recently visited the head of the robotics department at a major university to talk through what areas of research they are targeting in the next couple of years and the components and robotic products that will be required to support that work. We will aim to stock those parts so that we meet the demand and help those students to innovate.

“When it's safe to do so, we are also taking the RS Titan II truck [a 35-tonne truck loaded with interactive innovative engineering technology] to schools, universities and exhibitions to help promote STEM subjects and engineering as a career by letting young people get their hands on the gadgets.”

Hands-on experience
Fernandes believes that hands-on experience is essential when it comes to inspiring future engineers. “We want young people to make the connection between the subjects they study in school and the practical application,” she says. “It’s a chance to show them the exciting jobs they could potentially get if they go down the STEM route.”

RS Components is also heavily involved in supporting the university sector when it comes to teaching practical skills. Through RS Component’s DesignSpark initiative, engineers have access to 3D design software free of charge, which they can use to create products, and a peer forum/community where they can post their ideas and ask for support and feedback.

In addition, we have developed RS University to complement DesignSpark in the classroom. “RS University is based around DesignSpark, where we provide free teaching materials that lecturers can use or adapt for their classes,” says Manduvi. “In addition, we run workshops to help both lecturers and engineering students make the most of DesignSpark’s software.”