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back to index backGLOBALtalk February,  2017


Europe: Skills for tomorrow

According to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), around 40 per cent of employers in Europe have difficulties in recruiting employees with the required skill set. The problem is particularly poignant in the manufacturing sector. Alongside this issue, a growing number of employers are commenting that new recruits do not have the skills needed to work in the ever-changing manufacturing industry. So what exactly are these skills and what can we do to develop them?

Here we discuss the skills tomorrow’s engineers will require and how the skills gap can be bridged.

Investment in research, development and innovation is essential to a country’s economic performance. A recent global report commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering found a strong positive correlation between the engineering strength of a country and its economic development. The engineering sector is a hub for research and development, so it is essential for it to have access to a skilled and talented workforce.

This being said, there are two strands to the skills gap problem – the outdated perception of engineers and engineering careers, as well as the skill set of young people just entering the sector.

It’s not what you think

Changing the perception of engineering careers is an important part of the solution to the skills shortage. Perceptions have been dramatically improving over the last few years in line with growing numbers of school outreach activities from the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) community. School outreach is a crucial component in inspiring the next generation of engineers, as students enjoyment of school subjects in their early years heavily influences their career choices later on. Companies can get involved by running workshops, offering visits to their facilities, mentoring schemes or experience days.

Despite an improving perception of the industry, a number of manufacturers still report inadequate job application numbers. With the low levels of women entering engineering disciplines, it seems that half of the potential workforce is being left out entirely. Shifting the gender balance in engineering companies is a continuous challenge across the world. Outreach activities and projects should therefore involve promoting the subjects to women.

Relevant experience

It is not just the lack of qualified candidates causing problems when filling vacancies. Another challenge comes from young candidates not having the right experience for a job. Worryingly, in the UK, a recent survey by the Confederation of British Industry highlighted that 44 per cent of engineering science and hi-tech firms have difficulty finding experienced recruits with the right STEM skills. Industry placements or sandwich year higher education courses are good ways for graduates to gain industry experience. Expanding the number of available work placements in education courses may help to solve this problem.

At the moment, industrial technology is changing rapidly and this means it is difficult to find employees that are experienced in the latest emerging technologies and practices. Unless educational institutions are up to speed with technological innovation, the new workforce could be taught outdated material and be left behind. There is a huge demand on schools, universities and institutions to work together with companies to ensure a supply of relevant skills to the industry in the long term.

The right skills

The introduction of new connected and information enabled technologies to manufacturing requires a workforce with a different skill set. Increasing technology usage will create opportunities for workers to take on new roles and responsibilities. For example the convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) means that workers now require a mix of skills from both disciplines.

In today’s increasingly automated environment there is a range of emerging skills essential for employee success including; software development, equipment troubleshooting, critical thinking, communication skills for collaborative work, manual dexterity and the ability to perform complex system tests. Due to evolving technologies, the engineering workforce of tomorrow will be a collaborative, innovative group comfortable with both IT and OT.

Replacing an aging workforce

Part of the problem is the number of engineers that will retire before they can be replaced. According to the Association of German Engineers, around 21 per cent of engineers in Germany are aged 55 or over. This means that the most knowledgeable members of staff could take their expertise and years of experience with them when they retire in a few years’ time.

Companies should focus on training the newer workers alongside more experienced members of staff to mitigate this risk. Passing knowledge on to the next generation is essential for the company’s productivity in the long term. In turn, younger employers who are familiar with digital technologies could train older staff on how to use new and connected devices.

Connected technologies

Although the onset of Industry 4.0 has changed the industrial automation skills requirements, it also has the potential to lessen the impact of the skills gap in some areas. Increasingly connected and intelligent devices may relieve the strain on equipment maintenance, diagnostics and repair professionals.

Predictive maintenance means industrial systems should be able to automatically order replacement parts from companies such as EU Automation without much human intervention. This relieves a burden on maintenance staff to continually assess equipment condition.

Real time production data can also be delivered directly to the relevant person operating a central control system, lessening the complexity of tasks for inexperienced workers on the factory floor. Access to a connected central control system also promotes collaborative work, without geographic limitations. If a company finds the local talent pool is insufficient, connected technologies mean that it is possible to seek remote assistance from an experienced professional anywhere in the world.

It is important to remember that bridging the manufacturing skills gap does not revolve solely around increasing numbers, it is also about what industry and educational institutes can do to keep up with technological change and adapt training accordingly. This way, the existing and future workforce will possess the skills that industry needs, with the added bonus that improving perception through outreach will also attract new workers to the factory floor.

To download 80-page report, please click here.

Source: EMSNow - GAI





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