Embracing Diversity

Posted on 13/11/2016 by IED

In a world where skills shortages are rampant, why are so many young people marginalised? asks IED Chair Tania Humphries-Smith

As I write this, I am thinking about a piece of my own research, some of which was published at EPDE16 conference in early September, which demonstrates the monoculture that is engineering apprenticeships – at least in my locality! My local FE college has approximately 140 final year level 3 apprentices, many of whom go on to study HNCs, FdEng and BEng/MEng courses validated by my own university. My research into progression shows almost total domination by white middle-class males; white and male figures are in excess of 90%. While the proportion of those from working-class backgrounds, determined by postcode data (less than 10%) or parental occupation, at around 25%, is small.

Two reports this year, the most recent in a long line, consistently report on skills shortages, with the Engineering UK 2016 report* suggesting an annual shortfall. It states: “…within the engineering-related demand, 56,000 jobs per year are needed at level 3 (Advanced Apprenticeship) and 107,000 at level 4+ (HND/C, foundation degree, undergraduate or postgraduate and equivalent)…Our analysis of the supply data shows an annual shortfall of 29,000 people with level 3 skills and 40,000 with level 4+ skills” (p7). This same report highlights the impact of disadvantaged backgrounds on young people’s achievement at GCSE level.

The most recent report, ‘2016 IET Engineering and Technology Skills and Demand in Industry’,** suggests that school leavers and graduates do not have the right skill set for the engineering industries and that more graduates in particular need work experience. But it also suggests:

  • 9% of the UK engineering and technology workforce are female
  • 63% of businesses don’t have gender diversity initiatives in place (increased from 57% in 2015)
  • 73% don’t have LGBT or ethnic diversity initiatives in place
  • 40% of employers agree that their organisation could do more to recruit people from diverse backgrounds.

This is food for thought, from my point of view. If as a sector we are constantly saying there is a skill shortage, we need to look at a more diverse population from which to draw and be prepared to be pro-active about gender and ethnic diversity; about offering work experience and stopping to consider whether that apprentice you have just put on a craft skills course because of their GCSEs might have a disadvantaged background.

I ask you to ask yourself – does your organisation offer work placements? Does your organisation have a gender or ethnic diversity initiative in place? Does your organisation consider the background of apprentices? It would be good to hear your feedback and views on this -see below.



Get Involved

If you would like to contribute to any discussions, write to: Dr Tania Humphries-Smith CTPD CEng MIED FHEA FRSA, Chair, at:

The Institution of Engineering Designers, Courtleigh, Westbury Leigh, Westbury, Wiltshire BA13 3TA.

Or email: chair@ied.org.uk


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