The COVID-19 has caused a significant change among employers across the United Kingdom, including in the engineering sector. Some employers have taken the initiative to mitigate the effects of the pandemic by transforming their businesses. Nonetheless, all employers have been forced to move fast to keep up with the dynamic times and the ever-changing business environment. Some businesses, such as Waco Kwikform, have been forced to move entire workplaces and/or embrace remote working while others have had pause production, all the while adapting to changing market needs. This read attempts to capture these changes and share them hoping to informs practice and policy in the engineering field.
Statistics indicate that at the height of the nationwide lockdown, 24% of businesses had temporarily stopped or paused trading. Whilst the government is easing lockdown measures, many in the engineering industry have experienced a considerable negative impact from the lockdown. For instance, by April, about 45% of businesses in the construction industry experienced a halving of their turnover. Consequently, by May half of employees in the construction industry had been furloughed. Employees in the ICT, storage, transportation, and ICT-based industries such as marketing were less affected owing to the fact that employees could easily work remotely.
On the import and export side of businesses, over a fifth of companies that carried out importation and/or exportation halted these activities. The only alternative, for many businesses, mainly in the construction, water-based industry, and manufacturing was to find alternative solutions, especially for their import needs.
In the main production industries, the gross added value experienced a decline of an average of 24% over the year to April. The manufacturing industry (particularly the textiles and transport equipment) was the hardest hit while the waste and sewerage management, and water supply sectors were least affected. Within the manufacturing sectors, however, pharmaceutical products experienced growth.
Beyond the sectoral analyses published herein, we will also cover a report on the Educational Pathways into Engineering. While the report was written before the pandemic hit the UK, it does, however, highlight issues that are set to become more pronounced. The only positive note is that some progress has already been made. For instance, there has been an increased take-up of A-Level and GCSE subjects such as chemistry, biology, physics, and computer science that can create a pathway into engineering.
The reforms initiated in the technical education sector have centred on preparing students for the world of work. However, entries into some essential subject choices have declined. Entries into Maths and Further Maths and Design and Technology GCSE have declined compared to the previous academic year. Worryingly, the education sector is facing a lack of STEM subject teachers across the Secondary and Further Education levels. About three-quarters of Further Education, college principals rank engineering as the most affected field as it is classified as the hardest subject to recruit qualified staff for.
Looking forward, there is an increased urgency to create more opportunities for under-represented groups in the engineering field. For instance, among students with a socioeconomically disadvantaged background, who are facing new challenges due to the closure of schools.
Should predicted grades be used, certain groups of students are likely to get affected, especially students from poor backgrounds and ethnic minority students due to the widespread systematic biases. For example, black students are 2 and half more times prone to misallocation to a lower grade in maths than their white counterparts.
We will supplement our Pathways report with plenty of insights drawn from a pulse survey that will examine how the career aspirations and drivers among young people have changed in light of the pandemic.
COVID-19 has emphasised the need to publish insights and information quickly to reflect the fast-evolving environment with the views of helping inform action and policy. We will expand Our Engineering Insights to as wide a range of topics as possible, hoping it will provide an insightful, educative, and interesting read.