This issue was also most commonly raised during ESCO (Electronics Systems Community) consultations across all its work streams. Sufficient skills supply was identified as a critical enabler to support and achieve the UK electronics industry’s ambition for growth. There are already major shortages in both quality and quantity; a situation predicted to get much worse in the near future. To add to this, due to all sorts of technical development, the required competencies to address the engineering challenges facing modern Electronic Systems businesses are changing significantly and rapidly.
The specific skills challenges in the UK micro-/nanoelectronics sector are as follows. Due to a lack of alignment between educational programmes and industry needs, students are often not taught the relevant set of skills. Furthermore, the UK electronics industry is relatively weak in offering apprenticeships in comparison to other UK Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering (AME) sectors. Smaller companies also need to take part in such training programmes to stay competitive, but facilitating a full apprenticeship is challenging for them due to a lack in necessary funding and the associated (financial) risks. The situation is unlikely to improve without further intervention.
Skills challenges faced by industry not only relate to challenges concerning graduates in the field, but also to a decreasing number of experienced employees that lack a relevant set of skills. Although the benefits of retraining are clear, continuous training in this sector is considered to be costly. Many companies indicate that they are currently unable to fund training. This is reinforced by the fact that the UK microelectronics industry generally lacks a presence of large companies, which in contrast to the smaller companies tend to have funds available for training.
One of the main reasons why particularly electronic engineers are in short supply is that young people make an application based on rather limited information. Put differently, prospective students are considered to have low awareness of the career opportunities in micro-/nanoelectronics and the industry’s key role in solving societal problems.
Another concern raised by industry is the persistent male-female gender imbalance in the sector. Currently, close to 90% of Electrical and Electronic Engineering degree applicants are male. Addressing the male-female gender imbalance is considered an opportunity for raising the overall number of graduates in the field.
Finally, industry lacks some of the major employers that are well-known and recognised by the average school pupil or their parents. Not only does this result in a lack of awareness, it also results in the industry lacking the backing from a cohort of major employers who could fund an initiative to change perceptions. Stakeholders hope that the wider STEM agenda that is being driven by many organisations will also benefit micro and nano-electronics. The European-level support for these issues would be highly welcome.
The key highlights of this and other sectoral pilots will be presented during the European Conference on Skills for Key Enabling Technologies and Digital Economy, to be held on 1-2 June 2015 in Brussels.