Engineering and technology industries to boost UK economy, says IET

Space, robotics, 3D printing and cyber security will boost the economy – so long as there are enough skilled workers to meet demand

Six engineering and technology industries have the potential to boost the UK economy, as long as action is taken to close the skills gap, according to a report from theInstitution of Engineering and Technology (IET).

The Ones to Watch report highlighted six of the country’s most promising and innovative engineering and technology industries which, according to the report, are space, robotics, 3D printing, new energy networks, food manufacturing and cyber security.

Senior representatives from each of the six industries had put forward a case on why they hold an opportunity for the UK’s economy to flourish and create new jobs for further growth.

IET chief executive Nigel Fine said the report shows industry areas that offer the UK an opportunity for growth and global leadership.

“But we also hear straight from the horse’s mouth that the biggest barrier to that growth is meeting the need for high numbers of engineers and technicians with an increasingly transformational skillset – especially as these industries grow and new jobs are created," he said.

“Government and employers in these industries will need to engage with each other – and with all stages of the education system – to produce a talent pipeline with appropriate skills and talent. Investment and faster adoption of new technology are also important factors for them to address," he added.

"We need to act now. The last thing we want to happen is these innovative new industries fail to achieve their potential because they don’t have the skills, talent, technology and investment they need to grow.”

Discussing new energy networks, UK Power Networks future networks senior advisor Dave Openshaw said engineers have a “natural ability to responding to stretching challenges and finding innovative, cost-effective solutions." 

Their role in leading the transformation of electricity networks in the UK will be critical to the UK's future prosperity, he added. 

Smarter Grid Solutions managing director Alan Gooding agreed and said: “What we really need are people who can go deep into IT systems.” 

Shortage of applications not the issue

According to engineering and operations director Airbus Defence and Space Patrick Wood, getting highly qualified individuals to apply is not the issue.

“There is no shortage of people who want to work in the industry," he said. "But they need to be able to think in systems and engineering terms and apply that to software design.” 

The report highlights several challenges to overcome for the sectors to move forward and achieve their full potential, including competing against each other for talent and being able to adapt faster to new technologies.

There is no shortage of people who want to work in the industry

Patrick Wood, Airbus Defence and Space

Director of the Cyber Security Centre at the University of Warwick Tim Watson said as the concept of cyber security widens out to embrace physical systems, this will be reflected in demand for engineering skills.

“We will need engineers with expertise that combines areas such as materials science and electromagnetism with cyber security," he said.

“The supply of skilled people is linked to demand and that, in turn, is closely tied to industry, the government and public awareness of the key threats and necessary countermeasures. There is some way to go here and we can’t get too far ahead of the demand curve.”

Making a case for robotics, managing director of Shadow Robots Rich Walker said robotics and autonomous intelligent systems are areas of science in which the UK has world-class expertise.

"But to reap the full benefits for the economy and society we need to get better at applying the technology to industry." he said.

“With an ageing society, food harvesting, nuclear decommissioning and manufacturing competitiveness, robotics is – I think – the only industry that can speak to all of those challenges.” 

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