Recruiting the next generation of engineers has never been more important – or more challenging. But there are also signs that efforts to make engineering more attractive to young people are starting to succeed. CEO Rochdi Ziyat discusses how VINCI Energies UK & RoI can help capitalise on this interest, and the role it can play in ensuring a bright future for the UK engineering sector.

The scale of the challenge

I joined VINCI Energies in 1991, moving to the UK business in 2010, and in that time one thing has been constant – the challenge we and our customers face in finding people interested in and with the right engineering skills.

In their latest report on the state of engineering, EngineeringUK estimate that 124,000 people are needed to meet demand for core engineering roles every year – but that the UK is falling up to 59,000 short.

This poses a particular challenge in our industrial region – the Midlands. One in six of all the new engineering roles in the UK will be in the Midlands, reflecting the strength of our sector. However, that strength is being undermined by the lack of available talent – a report last year found that West Midlands recruiters struggled to fill more than 50% of all skilled trades vacancies, a far worse rate than the country as a whole.

There are many reasons for this shortfall, but one of the major causes is that engineering finds it hard to appeal to young people thinking about their future. One cause is that engineering as a career is often stereotyped, and many students feel they don’t fit. Part of the solution to this is to challenge misconceptions about engineering careers.

This has been recognised for some time, and fortunately, there are some signs that progress is being made.

Action has been taken to make engineering more attractive – and it’s starting to work

To give credit where it’s due, institutions and organisations like EngineeringUK and the Royal Academy of Engineering recognised the problem several years ago, and their action is starting to pay off.

For example, the Government has declared that 2018 is the Year of Engineering, and taken steps to boost the appeal of engineering. In practical terms, there is a website now detailing all the relevant engineering events going on this year, as well as providing educational materials to teachers and other groups and highlighting initiatives to get apprentices to speak in schools on their experience in engineering.

The Year of Engineering also promoted this year’s Big Bang Fair, held in the Birmingham NEC. The Big Bang Fair is the UK’s leading fair for the engineers and scientists of the future. Visitors had the opportunity to meet working scientists and engineers, and to learn more about the role of engineering in their everyday lives. Over 70,000 students visited this year – a figure made more remarkable by the knowledge that in its first edition in 2009, only 6,500 did.

There are other signs of growing interest in engineering. Over the last ten years, the number of engineering graduates, across all disciplines has grown by 27%. Within that, there has been some spectacular successes attracting BAME students, with a 79% increase – though there is still much more to do, especially to attract women into engineering degrees and careers.

The challenge, across the board, is to turn this surge of interest into interesting and rewarding careers in engineering.

Our approach to attracting engineering talent

Successfully tackling this challenge is central to VINCI Energies as a business, and we take the search for the best and brightest new engineers – and developing them – very seriously.

Our values are essential to our offer to people starting their careers in engineering. We trust and empower our employees from day one, and expect people to take on responsibility for projects from the start.

Innovation and entrepreneurship also lie at the heart of our business, and employees quickly gain the opportunity to work with the latest technologies and techniques in tackling business challenges. This helps our employees build up their professional experience. I believe this approach means we are better able to help keep people in our business, and in engineering in general.

To attract people into the business, we have brought in a new Modern Apprenticeship Scheme, a Graduate Advancement Programme and dozens of internships opportunities in all our Business Units, resulting in a sharp increase in the number of people joining us as they begin their careers. All of these have already made a huge contribution to our business, and in return, we make a huge contribution to their development.

We also recognise there is more to be done in ensuring the pipeline of future engineers remains open. To this end, we work with the WMG Academy in Coventry and Solihull, and are commissioning work which offers year 11 pupils the chance to work on a ‘design and make’ project that contributes 50% towards a GCSE Award in Systems & Control.

There is an opportunity for the Midlands – if we get this right

This approach to attracting and retaining engineering talent has worked for us, and as the businesses we work with adopt their own approaches to address this challenge, we can see a bright future for engineering in the Midlands.

 While we work across the UK, we have over a century of business heritage in the Midlands, and we see its strengths every day in advanced manufacturing, automotive, construction and many other sectors. For a long time, however, a shortage of engineering skills, even worse than the national average, has held us back.

 But with 70,000 students visiting the Big Bang Fair in Birmingham this year; the roll-out of our partnership with WMG Academy, and many similar schemes partnering business and educational institutions; and a recognition of the importance of engineering from policymakers across the region, we can look forward to the Midlands continuing to drive forward the engineering sector in the UK.  

Rochdi ZIYAT, CEO, VINCI Energies UK & ROI

If you’re interested in working at VINCI Energies UK & ROI or one of the businesses in our network, you can get in touch and find a list of vacancies here.

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