A UK government report predicts the manufacturing industry will require an additional 80,000 managerial, professional and technical positions by 2020, many of which will need science and maths (STEM) qualifications.
August’s A-level results saw a reported increase of more than 38,000, or 17.3%, in the number of entries in STEM subjects since 2010. However, while this increase may be encouraging, it may not be enough to fulfil demand for manufacturing talent in the future.
Indeed, the same government report revealed that only around a quarter of current engineering and technology graduates will go on to work in manufacturing six months after leaving higher education.
Clearly more needs to be done to encourage further STEM uptake, and persuade students that a career in manufacturing is an attractive option.
For many, the thought of a career in manufacturing will conjure up images of a largely male workforce performing low skill, physically draining work.
Such stereotypes, however, are antiquated and misleading.
Manufacturing in the 21st century is a revolutionary, high-tech fusion of software and mechanical engineering, automated processes and complex production equipment, 3D CAD models and rapidly produced on-demand parts.
Technological advances continue to streamline efficiencies and lower costs, and developments in big data and autonomous systems are enabling manufacturers to explore entirely new ways of doing business.
The industry as a whole is undergoing a digital revolution with new business models built around customer demand, production speed and enhanced software programming, requiring the best engineers, developers and designers.
As a result, there has never been a more exciting time for STEM talent to shine and find a career in which their skills will prove invaluable.
Improving awareness and changing perception
Matthew Hancock, former Minister of State for Business, Enterprise and Energy, said it was 'vital' to inspire young people into STEM careers in order to address the skills gap. He spoke of the importance of ensuring that children understood the routes available to them, and how they should be encouraged to think about their options from primary school.
'Industry is hungry for high-level skills, especially in STEM subjects,' said Hancock, 'We’ve put millions of extra capital investment into STEM teaching facilities and we are putting £185 million more into the teaching of these subjects.'
The government, education system and the manufacturing industry need to work together to improve awareness of the need for STEM skills, changing perception of careers in the manufacturing industry to make them a more attractive prospect for the future workforce.
Manufacturing firms can help to address the skills gap by instilling an interest in mechanical engineering during earlier stages of education.
For example, 3D printing could be used as a way of introducing students to the future of engineering, demonstrating the need for on-demand moulding for products ranging from tractor parts to iPhone components.
Although firmly established as a mainstream design tool, 3D printing still represents a source of fascination for students of all ages, and serves as an ideal introduction to the STEM curriculum.
It can offer students the opportunity to see how STEM skills will take the manufacturing process into more advanced product development, using technology to design and build products that are functional as well as presentable.Driving innovation
Manufacturing is currently enjoying a renaissance.
3D printing technologies, such as additive manufacturing, will enable new on-demand creation, production and distribution processes.
As mass production revolutionised the world in the 19th and 20th centuries, so the 21st century is expected to enjoy a new age of mass customisation made possible by 3D CAD software and on-demand manufacturing solutions.
To go forward, it’s essential for the that the future workforce – software developers and programmers, designers, engineers, and inventors – see manufacturing as an attractive career prospect, and have the necessary STEM skills to drive this innovation.
Sourced from Damian Hennessey, commercial director, Proto Labs