In a recent interview with the Engineering Employers Federation (EEF), the co-owners of PES Performance Mike Maddock and Dan Fleetcroft were asked how the next generation of engineers could be encouraged.

They both discussed how the shortage of engineers needs to be addressed and gave their opinions on how the engineers of the future should be educated.

Mike started by saying, “We already know that there’s going to be a shortage of skills and we’re not going to be able to fill that gap, so therefore productivity, automation, and the digital revolution will become more important. People are going to be forced down that route whether they like it or not, and so they really need to understand this and educate themselves.”

Dan expanded on Mike’s point, saying, “We’ve got a skills shortage and manufacturing is the saviour of the economy. The government now seems to understand that manufacturing doesn’t happen without engineering – so the message needs to change to show how engineering is going to save the economy. It feels like it needs some figureheads as there are people doing amazing things in engineering across all sectors, and we should be able to inspire almost anyone.

“What do kids grow up wanting to be? Footballers or singers or movie stars. That’s great but there are probably less of those jobs than there are in engineering. How do we get to a position where those engineering figureheads (whoever they are) are seen to be inspirational and show a career you wish to pursue?”

Mike continued by saying; “I believe on the skills side we need to educate the older generation and the current teacher base. Often, they are influencing the younger generation based on old, outdated perceptions and understanding. We need to educate them into understanding that manufacturing is completely different from what it used to be like and how they believe it to be. It’s a real future career.

“When Dan and I go around schools and organisations, one of the key questions we ask people is to look around and show us something that is not engineered. Suddenly the penny drops – everything is engineered. We had grass suggested once and we spoke about how grass can be genetically engineered to improve performance, yield etc. We believe engineering is what underpins society.”

However, Dan suggested an alternative strategy to encourage the next generation to enter the field of engineering- key role models. Dan goes onto say, “What we don’t appear to have are figure-heads in engineering to inspire that younger generation. There are some interesting projects – when we look at Elon Musk with Tesla, or maybe James Dyson of Dyson. But even with Dyson’s business – he still has vans going around, illustrating ‘engineers’ coming to fix your cleaner. The terminology means that many people still think of engineers as similar to technicians.

Dan continued, “I wonder whether the scale of modern engineering means that we don’t have those inspirational figures. I look back at the start of my career when John Barnard was one of the design geniuses from F1, and you had Patrick Head and Adrian Newey as figureheads of other F1 projects. We can look further afield in car design, back to the Mini and Sir Alexander Issigonis, or to engineers like Barnes Wallis & RJ Mitchell who designed the Bouncing Bomb and Spitfire respectively. We don’t seem to have such famous engineers now.”

Mike went on to discuss technology and what it means for future jobs; “We moved to the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) in Yorkshire from the south because this is the place to be. I think there is an awareness of what technology means and what jobs of the future are going to be. Not only those skills but the need for retraining.

“As Jürgen Maier of Siemens mentioned in the digital strategy, it’s the retraining of the current population that has to be key. As automation increases I don’t believe we are going to lose jobs. We will retrain people to a higher more technical skills base because there’s not a pipeline of younger people coming through.”

Dan concluded the discussion of how we encourage the next generation by suggesting, “The other thing is projects. If we look back – the Space Race and Apollo lunar missions inspired a generation of engineers, but they are already close to retiring if not already retired.

“Currently we have the Bloodhound Land Speed Record Project. It is kind of that ethos, but it doesn’t seem to capture the imagination of the press and media. The kids love it, but I don’t see it in the press. I don’t see this continual feed of information. Surely that is something that we should be pressing for just to inspire all those young minds.”