The Role Universities Play in Meeting Industry’s Electrification Skills Shortage
By: Peter Gammon and Juliette Soulard, University of Warwick, United Kingdom
Over the next decade, the automotive sector in the UK faces a significant skills shortage brought about by an ageing workforce. A recent report by the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) , concluded that over 55,500 jobs in the UK automotive manufacturing sector will need replacing by 2031, a number that is one-third of the predicted 170,700 strong workforce in that year.
Furthermore, as this is a workforce that is highly skilled in manufacturing cars with internal combustion engines (ICEs), the sector must diversify if all 1.56m cars produced in the country in 2019 are to be replaced by electric alternatives by 2030, meeting the UK government’s target. Indeed, research conducted by the UK's High-Value Manufacturing Catapult and WMG, University of Warwick, concluded that 63% of all Power Electronics, Machines and Drives (PEMD) jobs will be subject to ‘significant change’ in the next ten years, 84% when considering just electric machines. Meanwhile, the clamour for technicians and engineers with electric drivetrain expertise will not be the preserve of the automotive sector, with the aerospace, rail and energy sectors all facing their own electric revolutions.
There is, therefore, a need to grow substantially the number of PEMD engineers in the workforce. The Engineering Departments of the vast University sector have a major role to play in meeting this. First, and most traditionally, to increase the number of bachelor’s and master’s level electrical and mechanical engineers graduating each year from 50,000 and 80,000 respectively (in the UK in 2021). Indeed, a trend for new MSc courses in electrical engineering, PEMD and automotive electrification needs to continue.
However, an expansion of the technical, vocational pathways direct from secondary schools to the industry is also necessary, expanding on the few institutions that offer degree apprenticeships in areas such as electro-mechanical engineering.
Increased capacity is one-half of the coin, but there must be students willing to fill the courses. Here in the UK, a problem that is now decades old is that the number of domestic students wishing to take up the many opportunities of an Engineering degree is relatively small. We must therefore be proactive in our outreach and widening participation programmes to ensure that we inspire today’s teenagers to consider Engineering as a career or vocation. Given the passion and advocacy of this generation for climate change, the link between the problem and our profession’s solutions should be an easy sell. Harder to overcome is the perception of Engineering being a difficult subject to pursue.
Of course, with electric powertrain engineers needed today, the skills gap cannot be addressed by simply waiting for more graduates. Industry focussed programmes such as workshops, short courses or even MSc programmes, delivered via day release or week-blocks, must be established in our Universities to deliver the upskilling or reskilling directly to the sector.
The role of the University sector has long since changed from just graduating engineers on traditional BSc and MSc courses. We now reach down to inspire the next generation of potential engineers in schools, offer vocational training, and workshops and courses tailored to the industry. With the skills gap has emerged in the PEMD sector as we look to the electrification of everything, this diversity, and a great deal more capacity is essential.
1. Institute of the Motor Industry, Automotive sector employment 2021-2031, July 2022.
2. High Value Manufacturing Catapult, The Opportunity for a National Electrification Skills Framework and Forum, September 2021.
3. According to Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/319198/number-of-electrical-engineers-in-the-uk/, accessed November 2022.
Peter Gammon has 15 years of experience working in the design, fabrication and testing of silicon carbide power electronic devices. He is a Professor of Power Electronic Devices at the University of Warwick and the founder of www.PGCConsultancy.com. He has led projects developing bespoke power devices (IGBTs, MOSFETs and diodes) rated from 1200 V up to 15 kV for Electric Vehicles, Space, Industrial Machines and the Grid. He has published over 100 papers, and 3 patents, with his work having been used across the SiC industry.
Juliette Soulard received her PhD degree in Electrical Engineering from University of Paris VI, France in 1998, analysing iron losses and flux-weakening capability of small single-phase flux-switching permanent magnet machines with SMC cores. She carried out academic research at KTH Royal Institute of Technologyin Stockholm, Sweden until 2016, involving design and development of emachines for renewable energy generation, industrial drives and electrified transport systems, with the Swedish industry. She is currently Associate Professor in Electric Machines at WMG, University of Warwick, supporting the development of the UK supply chain for PEMD through research and teaching. Her research activities are focused on impact of manufacturing on electric machine performance. Through collaboration with material, manufacturing and metrology experts and the UK industry, her aim is to improve understanding and modelling approaches suitable at all stages of e-machine development from early design activities and choice of active material properties to product life-time prediction.
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