Engineering apprentices falls for third consecutive year as the skills gap widens
The number of people starting engineering apprenticeships has reached its lowest level in three years, raising concerns over a widening skills gap, according to data obtained by SJD Accountancy, the UK’s leading contractor services provider.
The official figures from the Skills Funding Agency, a government body, show that 63,240 people started engineering apprenticeships in 2013/14, a decline of 9.3% from 2011/12, when 69,730 students started apprenticeships.
According to SJD Accountancy, the third consecutive year of decline in the number of new students starting engineering apprenticeships corresponds with a 36% rise in non-EU engineers coming to the UK over the past year.[i]
Derek Kelly, Chief Executive Officer of SJD Accountancy, comments: “Apprenticeships have been a Government priority in recent years. Despite initial success in boosting the number of engineering apprenticeships, the numbers are now on a worrying downward trend.”
“At a time when the UK engineering sector is facing a skills shortage and needs to recruit tens of thousands of additional engineers every year, these apprenticeships numbers show that the gap is beginning to widen again. Skills shortages push up costs for major engineering projects and have a knock-on effect across the wider economy.”
“With the economy recovering and the Government having ramped up investment in infrastructure projects, demand for engineering skills is rising. With a large number of senior engineers reaching retirement, we need to ensure that the talent pipeline is delivering fresh skills if the UK engineering sector is to prosper.”
He adds: “The Government could also do more to encourage engineering contractors, who are vital to the flexibility of the engineering workforce, to re-train and update their skills. External training is currently not a tax deductable expense, but if we want to ensure that the UK engineering skills base is equipped for the future, providing a tax break for engineering contractors to update their skills would be a useful contribution.”
SJD Accountancy points out that spending on infrastructure projects, which heavily utilise engineering skills, has risen from around £41 billion annually 2005-10 to £45 billion annually 2011-13. The National Infrastructure Plan (NIP), which was announced by the Government last December, plans to spend £375 billion on infrastructure projects up to 2030 and beyond. This will pile further pressure on the UK’s engineering talent pool at a time when the supply of skills is already struggling to cope with demand.[ii]
The data from the Skills Funding Agency also reveals that the number of new apprenticeships across all subjects has fallen by 17% over the last three years, from 520,600 new apprenticeships in 2011/12 to 434,400 in 2012/14. This means that the Government will have to more than double the rate of new apprenticeships starts if it to meet the target of three million new apprenticeships over the next five years, as announced by the Prime Minister last month.
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