The search and rescue helicopter banks steeply over Dorset’s Jurassic shoreline, its downward-facing radar able to find a single individual that is likely to be misplaced, floating within the English Channel.
For this demonstration flight, the climate is ideal, however as Mark Burnand, chief check pilot at Leonardo Helicopters explains, the AW101 is equally succesful in zero visibility, monitoring casualties in heavy seas lengthy after the human eye has misplaced them.
The AW101, or Merlin, is “a critical piece of package”, mentioned Burnand, and one that’s fully designed, constructed and licensed in Leonardo’s manufacturing unit in Yeovil, Somerset.
However again on the bottom, Leonardo’s managing director Adam Clarke admits that as aerospace evolves into a brand new world of composite supplies and pilotless passenger craft, the large problem might be to maintain it that manner.
“We will’t get sufficient individuals,” he mentioned, regardless of having over 130 apprentices. “We’re recruiting individuals however they’re retiring on the similar charge. So we have to change how we do the recruiting.”
Leonardo, which sits within the west of England’s aerospace cluster that immediately employs some 37,000 individuals and generates an estimated £7bn a 12 months for the economic system, is way from alone.
An Establishment of Engineering and Know-how survey revealed final 12 months, discovered round half of engineering firms mentioned that they had skilled difficulties with a scarcity of expertise, each inside their current workforce and within the wider labour market.
In 2019, even earlier than the ‘nice retirement’ triggered by Covid-19 noticed a report variety of technically expert over-50s leaving the office, the commerce physique EngineeringUK forecast an annual shortfall of between 37,000 and 59,000 engineers graduating.
To assist slender that hole the federal government has ordered schools to keep in mind the findings of its native expertise enchancment plans, drawn up by regional commerce teams, in order that programs higher match the wants of native trade.
It is a welcome transfer in response to Matt Tudge, who as head of expertise planning at Enterprise West, which revealed its LSIP final month, discovered that whereas bigger firms have been capable of spend money on expertise, cash-strapped small and medium-sized companies have been discovering it tougher.
With lower than 10 per cent of UK graduates being engineers, in comparison with almost 25 per cent in Germany, in response to the OECD, British firms are preventing over a smaller expertise pool.
If the UK is to deal with its dearth of engineering expertise, Tudge added, it might want to shift cultural attitudes in direction of technical expertise, that are extra revered in European international locations like Germany and the Netherlands.
“Folks nonetheless consider engineering as grime, spanners and grazing your knuckles below a automobile, however that’s simply not the case. Now we have to alter perceptions,” added Tudge.
A latest survey by EngineeringUK discovered there’s loads of work nonetheless to be executed, with lower than 1 / 4 of 11-19 year-olds saying that they had heard about engineering careers from a careers adviser.
“Lots of younger individuals aren’t being given the publicity to these alternatives in science and know-how — they discover out when it’s nearly too late, after they’re at college,” mentioned Nicholas Davis, expertise supervisor on the Royal Aeronautical Society. “That’s the place the issue begins and the place it may very well be solved.”
Making engineering extra engaging to younger ladies — little over 12 per cent of engineering staff are ladies, in response to EngineeringUK — can even be a part of the answer.
Throughout the city at Yeovil Faculty the place Leonardo trains lots of its trainees, 18-year-old Cerys Flagg, a mechanical engineering apprentice, was certainly one of solely 4 ladies in her consumption of 34.
“If you’re in school you are able to do woodwork, however they’ve very restricted assets, they don’t actually promote engineering very a lot and say it’s job,” she mentioned. “And for women it’s intimidating as a result of it’s a male-dominated surroundings.”
Mark Bolton, principal of the faculty, mentioned that technical schools have been working to rebrand the engineering sector, deepening engagement with youngsters and liaising with trade to establish the talents of the longer term, the place “hybrid engineers” will work not with hammers and wrenches however ‘cobots and robots’.
However after twenty years of real-terms cuts, he provides, funding in offering coaching stays key. “We’re additionally dealing with a expertise crunch,” he famous. “Our highest paid lecturer final March was incomes £34,500 — that’s solely £2,000 greater than these youngsters will earn after they end their four-year apprenticeships.”
One other piece of the puzzle, in response to Graham Herries, on the Establishment of Engineering and Know-how, is a disproportionate deal with conventional levels over different kinds of coaching.
“We’ve inspired the college route however we don’t want all people to have an engineering diploma,” he mentioned. “We’re nonetheless woefully quick throughout the board.”
The federal government has mentioned it’s investing a further £3.8bn in expertise over the lifetime of this parliament, launching expertise boot camps, the multiply grownup numeracy scheme and a brand new T-level qualification to run alongside A-levels and generate “parity of esteem” for technical schooling.
However UK enterprise additionally wants to take a position extra, in response to the chancellor Rishi Sunak who mentioned in his annual CBI dinner speech in Might that employers “spend simply half the European common” coaching their staff.
Amongst Leonardo’s present crop of trainees there’s an acceptance that totally different routes can in the end result in the identical place.
Anthony Chiu, 20, attained 10 As and A*s at GCSE however didn’t apply to school, selecting as an alternative to begin instantly as a Leonardo apprentice.
After seven years, Chiu could have an engineering diploma and find yourself in a lot the identical place as a graduate entrant, simply with out the college money owed. “I at all times needed a level,” he says, “however I used to be interested in the apprenticeships although all my mates went off to uni.”
For Clarke, who has labored his manner up the corporate, there is no such thing as a magic bullet to handle the UK’s expertise deficit.
He advocates a three-legged strategy that mixes attracting science-qualified individuals again into engineering, stepping into colleges early and broadening the strategy to incorporate ladies and people with wider aptitudes. “It’s not nearly maths,” he mentioned.