back to article UK lacks engineering and tech skills to make government's industrial strategy work – report

A lack of skills in the engineering and technical workforce could hold up the government's industrial strategy, according to a report by the Institution of Engineering and Technology. The 2017 Skills and Demand in Industry report found that nearly two-thirds of engineering and technical employers said that finding staff with …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

    ... so no-one in the UK works in IT any more.

    Next question.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

      It is not just that.

      Even if there is an attempt to bring them on-shore it will misfire.

      The real engine behind the German Manufacturing StreamRoller is the FREE technical education. In the UK, you have to make an effort to graduate with a technical degree. In Germany you have to make an effort to graduate without.

      This is the real means for German government to subsidize its industry. As long as we charge our future engineers 20-40K up front which they cannot recoup with their starting salary we have NO MEANS TO COMPETE.

      Other countries which are doing very well lately in terms of emerging tech all have very heavily subsidized or free education as well.

      From this perspective, the recent UK governments including this one have failed to improve UK's engineering and manufacturing potential. In fact, they have done everything they can to decrease it. They also have no intention to fix things - it is all empty talk to facilitate the exchange of brown envelopes in between members of the old boy's club.

      Call me cynical, but I will believe in the noises about "manufacturing strategy" only after the education is again free with the caveat that liberal majors above an "essential" centrally tendered national quota pay full price. Not the 9k they pay today. The full one (which is more). Technical are free - period. There is no such thing as surplus of technical education :)

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

        with the caveat that liberal majors above an "essential" centrally tendered national quota pay full price. Not the 9k they pay today. The full one (which is more).

        As strongly as I agree with the rest of your sentiment, this part is both incorrect and wrong. Humanities subjects tend to be cheaper courses to run than science and technical ones. Also we don't want to cut our noses off to spite our faces -- if we want a rounded and rewarding society, we need those medieval historians and sociologists and creative writing graduates. A quota system would not work, because if anything the fuzziness of these subjects makes it harder to determine who would go on to advance the subject and society in some worthwhile fashion. By all means offer bonuses to encourage people to commit to STEM subjects, but don't undermine the other subjects. Law of unintended consequences, and all that...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

          if we want a rounded and rewarding society, we need those medieval historians and sociologists and creative writing graduates.

          So long as their valuable work is commercially funded or sponsored, that's fine by me. Oh, and a ban on them becoming politicians. Seems to me that Parliament is dominated by the fruits of our "rounded and rewarding society".

          1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
            Unhappy

            Seems to me..Parliament is dominated by the fruits of our "rounded and rewarding society".

            Not even that.

            A stunning amount of them come from the Politics Philosophy Economics course.

            So well trained in essay writing and creative bu***hitting.

            1. MonkeyCee Silver badge

              Re: Seems to me..Parliament is dominated by the fruits of our "rounded and rewarding society".

              "A stunning amount of them come from the Politics Philosophy Economics course."

              Worse is that they only need to pick two of the three.

              Most drop economics.

              Then we get politicians who are amazingly good at getting selected, by backstabbing their competitors, then good at getting elected by tricking the electorate. But no idea what to do when running the country.

              It's rather depressing that certain 80s comedies (Yes Minister, New Statesman) turned out to be documentaries. Even have the exact same themes such as universal surveillance, privatising the NHS etc

              1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                Re: Seems to me..Parliament is dominated by the fruits of our "rounded and rewarding society".

                "certain 80s comedies (Yes Minister, New Statesman) turned out to be documentaries."

                Turned out to be? We knew it at the time.

            2. Ken 16 Silver badge

              that sounds reasonable

              If your politicians are trained in Politics and Economics isn't that a good thing? Like having hospitals dominated by people with clinical training or a stunning number of physicists and engineers in nuclear powerstations?

              1. MonkeyCee Silver badge

                Re: that sounds reasonable

                "If your politicians are trained in Politics and Economics isn't that a good thing?"

                Except that you don't need to do all three for a PPE, about 90% of them do first year economics and then just do the PP part.

                Since first year (and much of second year) economics involves unquestioning acceptance of the current macro economic theory, and a small exploration of the micro economic theory from which the conclusions are drawn, it's almost worse than having no grounding at all.

                I've studied econometrics, which is the part which builds and analyses economic models, and the most important truth is that the model is not the system. So applying theory to the real world will always be incorrect (in some degree) and the assumptions that drive the model may well be incorrect in the specific case.

                The professors actually quite liked the econometric students, since we had to have actually passed high school mathematics. Thus we could cope with such fancy concepts as differentiation, so we didn't just have to assume every relationship was linear*. We also did weird and wonderful things like read the studies which where used to justify certain "truths" we where taught in class and where supposed to accept unconditionally. Oh, and we where expected to be able to critique any model, mainly by proving it's assumption weren't valid. Bear in mind things like "supply and demand" only work if the article in question has fast and low cost transactions, is portable and ideally divisible. Thus housing and jobs are generally not subject to "normal" supply and demand models, as you can't directly swap say a pair of four bed two bath houses, and claim they are identical. Well, you can, but the one in central London versus the one in Grimsby have slightly different valuations.

                I'll give you a few examples, and I expect you can see why certain members of the ruling classes come out with this crap.

                Case 1: Paying people more doesn't make them work harder. Thus don't pay them more.

                A number of studies have found that for about 25% of people, the amount they get paid for their work does not affect either the quality or their satisfaction with their job. This is used to justify not paying people more, because that "won't affect their quality". To anyone with an ounce of common sense, this is clearly bollocks. Firstly, 75% of people *do* feel it would improve by being paid more. I pointed this out, and was bluntly told "we're focusing on the top performers who can be motivated by non-material means". Secondly, almost all the other benefits (free food, healthcare, childcare, work-life balance, remote working etc) where achievable by spending money, albeit indirectly. So you're not increasing wages, but you are increasing money spent per employee, which from the business perspective is the same thing.

                Case 2: You can't have negative interest rates, as no-one would borrow money (Keynes). Otherwise know as the zero-interest-rate-problem

                The textbook conceded that, in theory at least, one could have "effective" negative rates, where inflation was greator than the interest rate, since this had been going on in Japan for a decade or so, and for a few years (by then) in the EU and USA. While I was studying there where further actual examples of purely negative rates, and the professors pretty much brushed them aside. I suggested that left to the market alone, there should never be any, but that the interest rates where the only tool at the disposal of central banks, and increasing capital requirements (BASEL 2 and 3) where primarily political tools, and thus removed from normal market conditions, hence why they could exist. Plus you could actually observe them, which I thought was one of those prime conditions for "scientific theory", since you'r trying to explain an observable phenomenon, rather than claim the theory says it can't happen and ignore them. So while certain lecturers thought this quite a sensible explanation, we still had a short essay question on why the ZIRP exists.

                Case 3: Prices are determined by natural rather than artificial scarcity.

                Mainly the issue here is finding any good or commodity that this is actually true for. At the time, my lecturer got rather shitty with me for contradicting him on the subject of gold (mercury is scarcer, harder to mine, more dangerous and more useful, but is a fraction of the "price" of gold, paper gold is traded at 15,000 to 1 ratio with actual gold), diamonds (controlled by cartels, massive differences between buy/sell prices, price of industrial diamonds versus jewelry) and fine art (cartel control, donations used as a tax deduction). I agreed to shut the hell up, since the theory does have some application (bottled water in a crisis zone, global shortage of food staples), but finding actual working examples that aren't a result of constrained supply of essential are problematic. Also most examples that work involve rather uncomfortable elements, essentially that "people will do anything for a potato" when they're starving.

                However, I did run into the same lecturer a few years later, and he had had the grace to actually test some of my claims. In particular, he got some of his wife's diamond jewelry appraised, and then asked for offers to buy it. All the dealers would only offer to sell it on commission, and either flat refused to buy it or would only give him 25% of the appraisal value. He's now writing a paper on monopoly abuse by De Beers, so at least it's possible to teach an old dog new tricks.

                * quite a few models assume that a relationship is linear or close enough, as long as you don't move the equilibrium point around much

          2. EarthDog

            Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

            Carly Fiorina was a Medieval studies major. Do we want to take that risk?

          3. Naselus

            Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

            "Seems to me that Parliament is dominated by the fruits of our "rounded and rewarding society"."

            Just the opposite; Parliament is dominated by PPE grads and doesn't have much in the way of other humanities. The result being a badly skewed view of the world.

            A similar thing happened in the Soviet Union about 50 years ago. Stalin more or less abandoned education outside of STEM; social science was essentially deemed 'finished' (because Marx was right, so why bother doing research in it anymore). The result was a huge wave of engineers being trained in the late 20s and early 30s, and no-one with any soft skills - so they thought you could run society like a machine. When these guys came to rule the country in the 1970s and 1980s, the whole thing fell apart.

            Basically, you want a good mix of people running things - STEM guys to understand technical stuff, humanities grads to understand people. Banning one set or the other basically ends in disaster.

        2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

          A quota system would not work, because if anything the fuzziness of these subjects makes it harder to determine who would go on to advance the subject and society in some worthwhile fashion.

          Different cattle of fish.

          In order to establish a German-like indirect subsidy for the industry _ANY_ route except technical education has to be associated with some selection threshold and some "pain" and "cost".

          If the humanities are as free and unlimited as technical education, this is no longer an industrial subsidy. It is in a different league. It is in the league of improving the overall cultural and social level of the nation. THAT is a good goal in itself. It is however a different goal and a goal which frankly Britain cannot afford at present.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

          @rich 11's "Humanities subjects tend to be cheaper courses to run than science and technical ones"

          This is because there are more availible Humanities graduates looking for a job than Science or Engineering hence a lower wage, that and and the relative lack of jobs requiring Humanties subjects at degree level and above. I would suggest that most Humanities graduates end up working outside of their subject where they often displace someone who may not have cost the country the price of a degree mean that any savings in teaching are offset by unemployment. Thus Humanities at the moment is a waste of everyone's time and money.

          Given that there does in indeed seem to be a glut of Humanities graduates then perhaps it would be in everyone's interest if they disincentivised them by atleast making them pay the full price for say ten years or until the current glut decreases.

          Personally I would apply this rational to all degrees, if there is not a demand for a subject then why should the country pay. Yes it means that only the affluent can do degrees not focused on a job but atleast everyone else isnt having to pay for it.

          1. Blotto Bronze badge

            Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

            @ AC

            Are you suggesting that it should go back to the old system where the local education authority paid and students had to get the right grades or not go, instead of any desperate college taking anyone because they can get a loan to pay the fees?

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

            Or STEM subjects on the whole require more practicals, lab equipment, technicians to run that stuff. Plus the contact hours required to to teach STEM subjects are higher than that of humanities. All adds to the cost.

            Unfortunately it is these practical components which have been squeezed out of the courses over the last couple of decades, making degree graduates in STEM subjects theoreticians, whilst industry requires practitioners (because they will not invest in proper inhouse training for graduates).

            There is a gap in practical training in STEM subjects which needs to be filled, otherwise graduates moan they cannot get a job and industry moans they cannot get staff with the right skills.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

        "As long as we charge our future engineers 20-40K up front which they cannot recoup with their starting salary we have NO MEANS TO COMPETE."

        I'm old enough that I got a government grant that allowed me to study mechanical engineering. My kids are several years away from making a decision about whether to go to university, but I am doing everything I can to save some money up now, because if they are going to do a degree, I want them to be able to freely choose something that interests them. (I'd like them to choose something related to science, engineering, or maybe computing, but you never know with kids...)

        1. ZSn

          Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

          "I am doing everything I can to save some money up now"

          There is a cheap, however rapidly closing window to solve that. It costs 337 Euros per semester to study in Germany (and the living costs are lower). That presupposes two things: a) they can speak German; b) Brexit.

          Learning German is a nuisance but given that it saves about 50k, maybe worth looking into. You could also look at Ireland - not sure what the fees will do there after Brexit thought.

          1. Tinslave_the_Barelegged Silver badge

            Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

            > There is a cheap, however rapidly closing window to solve that

            Or move to Scotland. We don't have undergrad tuition fees here. And our academic record's not too shabby either.

            Disclaimer: Relatively recent graduate of UHI, at an unfeasibly unlikely age.

            1. MonkeyCee Silver badge

              Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

              "Or move to Scotland. We don't have undergrad tuition fees here. And our academic record's not too shabby either."

              Have the rules changed then? Because when I looked into it, if I was a) Scottish or b) a non-UK EU citizen I could get the free undergrad course, but being a UK EU citizen from south of the border I paid full whack.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Don't look at Ireland

            nothing to see here, keep moving, nothing to see...

          3. MonkeyCee Silver badge

            Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

            Not sure you even have to learn German.

            I'm studying in the Netherlands, in a tech subject, and it's taught in English. There are about a dozen partner universities, half of which are in the EU, and they all teach directly related (ie cross creditable) courses, also in English. The only one which requires a foreign language is the Canadian partner (you needs the funny sort of French they speak over there).

            It seems to be the case that subjects that are a bit more "general" are available in English, which should cover pretty much all STEM areas. The one that I'm aware of that absolutely require the local language is law, which makes sense.

            It's about 2 grand a year here for fees, capped at a 5% rise.

        2. handleoclast Silver badge

          Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

          My kids are several years away from making a decision about whether to go to university

          Tell them not to bother. Studies show that lifetime earnings for graduates are lower than lifetime earnings for apprentices. You can have more fun at uni but you earn more by doing an apprenticeship.

          Yeah, I made the wrong choice. :(

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

            "Studies show that lifetime earnings for graduates are lower than lifetime earnings for apprentices. "

            Sop much so, there is a bloody great poster at the job centre (or whatever its called this week) declaring such.

      3. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

        As long as we charge our future engineers 20-40K up front which they cannot recoup with their starting salary we have NO MEANS TO COMPETE.

        As an outsider, looking at the various sums of money given to "studies" such as this, the one mentioned in the article (national productivity investment) and probably more in a similar nature that just basically fund studies and conferences, I'm pretty sure if the government were redirected, then the shortage problem could be solved. All governments lately seem to have this self-centered urge to spend billions on such things (studies, advocacy, discussion groups, etc.) that have no real impact on the problem. Start funding the schools and education sector for crying out loud and you'll get results.

        <rant off>

        1. rubyduck

          Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

          Fund FE Colleges (if they still exist), not schools, which are inadequate baby-minding services. We need free, or very cheap, evening courses which will allow engineers and teachers to make a few extra quid. and enable those who suffered secondary education in areas like Suffolk to catch up with the rest of the world.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

            Fund FE Colleges (if they still exist), not schools, which are inadequate baby-minding services. ... those who suffered secondary education in areas like Suffolk t"

            If Suffolk schools were inadequate wouldn't it make sense to fund them to improve and not remain as baby-minding services?

        2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Unhappy

          Start funding the schools and education sector for crying out loud and you'll get results.

          But then you have to start spending real money.

          Say there are 4.5 million primary school age children (roughly the number)

          If you want to increase funding per child by £1000 a year that's £4.5Billion* a year, just to do that.

          *Or 2.5x Ecclestons, allegedly

          1. EarthDog

            Re: Start funding the schools and education sector for crying out loud and you'll get results.

            or about 45 F35's or less

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

        "Other countries which are doing very well lately in terms of emerging tech all have very heavily subsidized or free education as well."

        Like the US you mean?

        In the UK well trained engineers are wanted not to provide strategic technical direction, but to sit on that f**king seat and make someone else's stupid ideas work and keep your bloody ideas / opinions to yourself.

        Try selling that idea to someone who wants to be a start-up billionaire by the time they're 25. Money motivates very few people. Reasonable recognition does.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

          "Money motivates very few people."

          Lack of money, however...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

          Other countries which are doing very well lately in terms of emerging tech all have very heavily subsidized or free education as well."

          1. That is a different strategy. Steal other countries graduates one way or another. The idea is going sour one way or another too.

          2. USA is not doing that great in terms of industrial productivity and high tech industry either. Nowhere near as well as Germany or Korea.

          3. USA is not doing well in terms of actual emerging tech too. I have been lucky to work on "new stuff" aka R&D for many years and I have lots of friends and colleagues who do too. I have an excellent idea of how much of the R&D is done in USA (roughly NIL) and how much is of the R&D done in let's say Israel nowdays (roughly 90% in all cases where the company has a USA and Israeli part).

          4. One of the reasons USA is surviving at all in the high tech scene is the fact that you cannot compete for any part of the gigantic pile of Pork and restricted cash which is USA infrastructure, DOD and telecoms budgets without a USA part. You simply will be prevented from bidding (so much for WTO rules). Even there, having a management/marketing head in USA and doing everything elsewhere is now becoming the norm.

      5. Bruce Ordway

        Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

        >> German Manufacturing StreamRoller is the FREE technical education

        I believe up until the late 70's early 80's,the US offered a lot of free/cheap trade/tech education too. As far as I know... they've mostly been discontinued and today we have more education "businesses".

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

          "As far as I know... they've mostly been discontinued"

          They became "polyversities" and now offer full degree courses at full degree prices.

      6. Blotto Bronze badge

        Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

        Perhaps some kind of tax rebate for uk degree educated technical or engineering staff?

        I can see universities robing students and government blind with dual honours courses for lots of subjects so that students get their sociology / Media studies / waste of time and money for 3 years degree for free.

        The uni / education system (like many other partially privatised systems) is being gamed and the government needs to come up with a strategy to defeat it.

      7. cageordie

        Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

        That isn't subsidy, it's investment, you tool.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

      "The 2017 Skills and Demand in Industry report found that nearly two-thirds of engineering and technical employers said that finding staff with the right skills was a barrier to achieving their business objectives over the next three years."

      I cannot get a supermodel to date me, therefore there must be a shortage of supermodels. Cry me a river.

      1. John G Imrie Silver badge

        Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

        nearly two-thirds of engineering and technical employers said that finding staff with the right skills willing to take our shitty wages was a barrier to achieving their business objectives.

        PS if you have money you can always date a Supermodel.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

          "PS if you have money you can always date a Supermodel."

          I suggest you have a listen to "Ugly guys with beautiful girls" by Sparks...

          1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

            Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

            PS if you have money you can always date a Supermodel.

            You haven't seen my face... Even for a great deal of money! Maybe I could find a 'Debbie' a la Adams family to have a go?

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

            "Ugly guys with beautiful girls" ....... Talent in an Asset.

        2. handleoclast Silver badge

          Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

          nearly two-thirds of engineering and technical employers said that finding staff with the right skills willing to take our shitty wages was a barrier to achieving their business objectives.

          It was ever thus.

          Anyone here old enough to remember the Finniston Report?

          In 1977 the UK gov't was worried about the shortage of qualified engineers. Sound familiar? He was asked to address concerns that enineering was of relatively low status in the UK. Finniston tried to find ways of giving engineers more status (like doctors had) without paying them more on the basis that people saying "Wow! You're an engineer! That's almost as good as a doctor!!!" would be more attractive to potential engineers than good salaries.

          That worked well, didn't it?

        3. TheDillinquent

          Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

          And of course most of the best sci/tech grads get sucked up by the fintech 'industry' where they do valuable work lining the pockets of the 1%.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: All the jobs were sent offshore to get it for cheap....

        or you're not paying enough to hire an escort who looks like a supermodel

  2. Naselus

    Typical

    Employers: There's not enough trained workers in job X!

    Employees: Can I get some training budget to improve my skills in X?

    Employers: Never! You'll just ask for a pay rise or go and get a higher-paying job with someone else!

    We have this conversation literally every year. At some point, if employers have to realize that if they want skill X in their workforce, they are going to have to actually pay someone to learn it, and then raise their salary to the point where they can retain them.

    1. ZSn

      Re: Typical

      BT used to have a paid MSc on site at Martlesham Heath. It was notorious in that most of the students left afterwards for better paid jobs. BT used to expensively train people then not pay them better afterwards.

      BT solved that by canning the course a few years ago.

    2. kain preacher Silver badge

      Re: Typical

      Here is a novel idea, my cousin worked for ATT. As long as you were taking college course they felt were relevant they paid. Now you said an agreement stating you will stay with the company for five years. If for any reason you leave you have to pay it back.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Typical

        "Here is a novel idea...As long as you were taking college course they felt were relevant they paid. .....If for any reason you leave you have to pay it back.

        Many Social Work degree are sponsored by the LA's. You stay until you've served your time, or had a breakdown, whichever comes first.

    3. EarthDog

      Re: Typical

      The easy solution to that is you must stay with us for x years or you payback all the training.

    4. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      At some point,employers have to realize..they want skill X..they are going to have to..pay someone.

      AFAIK US and UK employers have been in denial about this for decades.

      IIRC US employers were saying "If we train people they'll only leave" to Tom Peters* in the 80's.

      4 decades on not much has changed.

      *Came across a copy of "In Pursuit of Excellence" recently. Hilarious, given when it was written.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'lips service is all very well, but where are the people?'

    HMRC crackdown on IT contractors or Brexit having some affect maybe?

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