It is often said that British engineering firms are struggling to recruit graduates. Speak to engineering students or recent graduates and you’ll find that many have also struggled to find work. So what’s going on?
While there are many factors that contribute to the problem, two of the main issues for engineering companies and graduates alike are fierce competition, and a lack of hands-on experience.
Many engineering graduates will tell you that the job market is incredibly competitive, with a whole academic year’s worth of students seeking employment in the same companies, battling it out through rigorous applications, psychometric testing and assessment days.
The larger, more well-known companies understandably attract more applications. They also have greater resources available to provide a presence at careers fairs and other recruitment events. New graduates may wish to work for a household name, or may be attracted by the prestige and glamour of a known brand. This may mean that they don’t even give SMEs second thought.
With only a limited number of new graduates to go around, this leads to fierce competition at established companies, and an engineer drought for SMEs.
How can we combat competition?
SMEs could strive to provide more of a presence at local careers events. This would make their company known to students who are considering an engineering career and making it an attractive option.
During the degree program or other training, educators could emphasise the broad opportunities available in the engineering sector. For example, this may include mapping out a variety of unusual pathways that get students thinking about alternative options.
SMEs could work with training academies to offer apprenticeships to learners, allowing them to utilise the training provider’s wide network to get the company name out there and to attract new employees at an earlier stage.
Universities and other education institutes could do more to make engineering sound more attractive to potential students. This may include utilising realistic, high starting salaries, exciting projects, unusual sectors and industry placements to advertise the potential.
Large companies that receive excess applications could work with SMEs to pair them up with potential candidates. This allows smaller businesses to benefit from the surplus and provides more opportunities for graduates.
Lack of hands-on experience
Although engineering students leave formal education with plenty of theoretical knowledge, many companies feel that they lack the necessary hands-on experience to jump straight in. While nobody expects entry-level engineers to have a complete working knowledge of all 3D design packages and manufacturing equipment, candidates have a serious advantage if they are able to display real-world industry experience.
Many engineering courses include a placement element, which help students to learn more about working in engineering. However, places are limited or may not be relevant to a student’s desired field. Not all courses and not all universities offer these placements, which can put students at a disadvantage.
Smaller companies often do not have the available resources or protocols in place to provide in-depth training for graduates. This means that engineering graduates may receive limited training, or may not be hired at all due to their lack of hands-on experience.
For this reason, many companies are looking to hire apprentices. Apprentices learn practical skills on the job and are often more able to hit the ground running than academically-focused engineering graduates. Some companies state that they value experience over grades, although this is not always the case.
How can we combat lack of hands-on experience?
Universities and training providers could work with a wider range of businesses to implement and improve placement programs within their courses.
We could encourage businesses to make the most of the apprenticeship levy. This would allow them to train engineers on the job with minimal impact to company resources.
Schools could do more to increase the awareness of apprenticeships and other practical-based qualifications such as BTECs. This will allow students to make an informed decision on how best to prepare for a career in engineering.
Engineering students who are struggling to find work due to lack of hands-on experience could top up their existing theory-based qualifications with a practical course at a college or training academy.
Hands-on training for engineering students
CEATA offers a range of hands-on training courses in engineering disciplines, allowing people to upskill and broaden their practical abilities. Our offering ranges from half-day instructional courses all the way up to four-year apprenticeships, and everything in between.
Trainees will work at our dedicated Engineering Training Academy in Nottingham. Here, they will benefit from first-hand experience of engineering operations, learn safe working practices and develop real, usable skills.