Welcoming people into your factory on National Manufacturing Day is a great way to inspire much-needed young people into the engineering profession, as Manufacturer Advisor Steve Wilkinson explains from his own experience.
It’s no secret that the manufacturing sector faces a huge skills gap. Not only are companies worried about retaining talent in an ageing workforce, they are also worried about attracting talent into the industry. The jobs are there to be filled, but there’s still a lingering perception among young people that the world of engineering isn’t for them.
If you’re reading this from your place of work, I would argue the answer is right in front of you.
The company visit that got me hooked
I was recently asked to give a presentation to the National Careers Service about my own experience starting a career in engineering. My journey began at the age of 14. I knew I didn’t want to go to college straight after school, but other than that I had no set plans. There was a history of engineering in my family, and I had a loose interest in ‘making things’ – that’s about as far as my curiosity went.
The spark wasn’t lit until a local engineering company came to do a presentation at my school assembly. It certainly helped that the speaker turned up in a Porsche 911, but what they had to say also really caught my attention. Their presentation was enough for me to speak to a careers advisor about it afterwards.
I ended up going on a visit to a local company that was very keen on taking on apprentices and training young people, and it was that visit that made me realise engineering was for me.
I went to work for a company that cared about young people and my career possibilities. I got a warm welcome right from the top – the owner of the company even came to see me himself, which felt amazing. He painted a brilliant picture of the possibilities ahead of me if I put in hard work and had the right attitude, and I was hooked.
…It could have been very different
Before I knew it, I was on a four-year mechanical engineering apprenticeship, and then onto qualifications at college. I came out with decent results and at that point decided to gamble on university, which is where I realised just how in demand engineering skills truly were. The job opportunities seemed endless.
Coming out of university, I started off in R&D and project management, where I was lucky enough to travel around Europe on the job. I went onto to become a director and then took various jobs in operations management in both the services and manufacturing industries, before ultimately moving into manufacturing advisory services.
I still find the world of engineering as fascinating as I did when I was introduced to it at 14. My kids often find me watching ‘How It’s Made’ over breakfast; I can’t help myself. Yet I think it’s fair to say that without that initial school assembly and company visit, I wouldn’t have gone into engineering at all.
The message to young people: the opportunities are limitless
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from all my years in industry, it’s that engineering skills can take you anywhere. When you drill down to it, engineering is essentially problem solving, and problem solving skills are equally applicable whether you’re machining something or making a strategic business decision. In fact, research shows that starting out as an engineer is the most common first job for CEOs at FTSE 100 and US Fortune 100 companies.
Of course, I don’t need to tell you that good engineers are needed now more than ever. Almost every manufacturer I speak to agrees that engineering skills are in demand at all levels, from fabricators on the shopfloor to board level and everything in between; from someone coming out school at 16 to someone coming out of university with a postgraduate degree. We need more of everybody – including those who haven’t traditionally gone down the engineering route.
The fact that engineering career lines are so blurred today, with practical skills mixing with digital technology, means there is something for everyone.
Open your doors on National Manufacturing Day
Now is a crucial moment. Half of young people are placing more importance on their career as a result of the pandemic, and nearly two thirds would consider taking an apprenticeship.
Engineering is perhaps an even better career option now than when I first started out. But, like me, many young people won’t even know about it if they’re not engaged directly.
Being invited to see engineering in action as a student was the pivotal point in me selecting it as a career. So, my advice is to take this chance to open your doors and show your wares.
On National Manufacturing Day on 7th July you can join manufacturers across the country in inviting people into your business to give them a chance to see life in engineering for themselves.
If you inspire even one person to enter the industry, it’ll be worth it.
Get support to create jobs
Our Manufacturing Service offers expert one-to-one support to help SME manufacturers in Greater Manchester overcome their challenges and create jobs for that next generation. If you’re looking for support to achieve your goals, get in touch today.
Steve Wilkinson, Manufacturing Advisor
Starting out as an Engineering Technician Apprentice and graduating in Manufacturing Systems Engineering, Steve has worked in and around engineering and manufacturing for over 28 years.
In this time, he has been involved in a multitude of change projects in a wide range of sectors and scale of businesses, in both the UK and in Europe. In roles ranging from operational to strategic levels and in areas spanning:
Process Development including Process Simulation
Training, Coaching and Mentoring
He is passionate about people and skills development at all levels in the industry to drive effective change.
To view Steve's full profile including technical capabilities and industry experience, please click here.