How to tackle technical skills shortages across Europe
Hi-tech manufacturing is one of the most important sectors in Europe’s economy in terms of the number of enterprises, jobs and generation of added value.
Research from the European Commission (EC) shows that in 2012, the high-tech manufacturing sector in the European Union turned over more than 500 billion euros and employed 2.4 million people. It had been less affected by the economic crisis than other industries.
The downside to this success story, however, is that expanding high-tech companies are finding it increasingly difficult to find candidates with the right skills, especially as there is a shortage of engineers.
Tackling the skills shortages
EU policy makers face increasing pressure to improve education pathways leading to the engineering and high tech industry to ensure that skilled candidates can be considered for roles without encountering barriers to entry.
Research from the Migration Policy Institute published in 2013 and funded by the EU looked at how engineers in the continent make their way into the industry, finding that employers are often more interested in professional achievements than formal qualifications. The study determined that, while a good engineering degree can be viewed as essential in a career’s early days, employers prioritise the quality and relevance of previous employers.
Researchers identified that, once workers are recruited, top employers run training and development programmes for their staff. Engineering professional bodies can also help to develop staff and assure the quality of these schemes.
“While in principle, qualifications are perceived to be a good thing in a candidate, it is simply not clear what they reveal about an individual candidate’s likely contribution in a specific working context,” the report read.
Bridging the tech skills gap
While it is apparent that personal experience is highly valued in the engineering sector, more work needs to be done to recruit young professionals.This is exactly what organisers at Junior Achievement-Young Enterprise Europe had in mind when they partnered with Hyundai Motors to start a project providing greater awareness for science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills among young people.
The initiative is entitled Skills For The Future and will run for a total of three years (and is currently in the last of these). It is focusing on 10,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 18 in 15 European countries. These people will have the chance to develop their STEM skills and apply their knowledge in innovative ways.Among the countries taking part are the Czech Republic, France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Spain, the UK and Norway.
With support from their teachers, the candidates will be given a number of practical learning tasks, where they will work alongside Hyundai volunteers across Europe to sharpen their abilities and gain a valuable insight into the engineering industry.
To assist with the scheme, more than 400 workers from the business community will take part, offering guidance to those looking for an introduction to the industry.
Byung Kwon Rhim, President of Hyundai Motor Europe, said: “We are committed to helping drive economic growth in Europe, and by investing in the business leaders of tomorrow we are contributing to a more prosperous future.
“Our education and mentoring initiatives will help tackle the skills gap in Europe’s job market, inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs and providing them with a valuable platform for business success.”
Skills promoted by the scheme include flexibility, self-organisation, problem-solving and entrepreneurial abilities. It appears that the scheme is popular, too, with almost 4400 students registering for the 2013/14 year across 100 vocational schools. For the 2014-15 academic year, this number has risen by more than 1,000. During the year, students taking part in the scheme create and manage their own businesses with support from Hyundai mentors and trained teachers.
Focus on practical tech skills
The tech sector is in a state of transition at the moment. With such a dearth of qualified experts, it is vital that more initiatives like Hyundai’s Skills For The Future crop up to support development in the industry.
One move that could help to make a big difference is the introduction of EngTech status, which will be rolled out on March 3rd in the UK. The move will allow technicians and engineering apprentices to register as Engineering Technicians (EngTech) and boost their career prospects. If the plans prove to be effective, the EngTech status could be rolled out across the EU and hopefully give young engineers a more attractive profile in the market.