The softer side of hard-core Engineering


In mid-December the Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) launched the Employer Ownership £10m training Fund (EoF) for Improving Engineering Skills in Smaller Companies (  The purpose of this initiative is for any SME directly employing people in engineering occupations “…to put forward innovative proposals to develop engineering skills in sectors suffering acute skills shortages.”


This is a great opportunity to develop core business and soft skills as part of an integrated engineering skills development programme to ensure your Engineers have a solid foundation of technical and business skills on which to build their careers.


The UK Government will contribute 50% of eligible cost to firms who have projects to provide extra training to employees to support:

  • Career Progression - enabling those currently in engineering occupations to move forward in their careers
  • Conversion training allowing people to transfer from other occupations into engineering to fill skills gaps and to increase your stock of engineers


The type of training to achieve this depends on what best meets your needs.  But the training must lead to skills that are portable and can be used in other companies and occupations (transferable skills).

Training should target employees from skilled operators through to engineer associate professionals and those on pathways through to professional status.  These skills equate with Levels 2-6 of the Qualifications and Credit Framework.

Training activity could focus on:

  • career progression training for associate professionals, technicians and skilled operatives to adapt to changing technologies or new business processes; or
  • employers re-skilling, or recruiting people with allied qualifications or skills to enter into, or return to, engineering;
  • supporting mid-career returners to come back to, or into engineering occupations;
  • pathways into Technician or engineering professions.


There are, however, limitations on the sort of training that this fund can support.  Funding of 1st and post-graduate degrees, apprenticeships and traineeships programmes, where funding can be obtained through existing funding channels, are not in scope.

Learners must be employed in England and must be aged 19 and over.


This initiative is to be applauded for its ability to encourage and support the development of more engineering skills and capability in the UK economy.


This introduction of this initiative was inevitable.  In October 2012 The Engineer magazine ( reported that “Enrolment to engineering degrees in the UK is healthy, but the skills gap is complex and some sectors are finding it harder to recruit graduates than others, especially in the supply chain SMEs.”  It went on to say “While the country has always punched above its weight [ranked 7th in the world for manufacturing], there’s obviously huge competition to become world leaders in things like low-carbon vehicles, renewable energy generation, satellites and medical devices to name a few key trends.”  Further Engineering UK estimated that “in the next 5-10 years the UK will need at least 2 million addition engineers…”


However, Employers remain concerned that too few Further Education College and University graduates are ready for the world of work.  While they would like to see these Institutions doing more to develop business and soft (employability) skills in young people, the reality is that Employers need to continue taking responsibility for the development of business and soft skills of their first-time young employees, as well as more experienced personnel. 


If you are an SME developing plans for an engineering-orientated training programme for funding submission to the above scheme, then here are 4 elements to consider when putting an attractive employee development programme in-place at your firm. 


There’s not much time left to submit your application to BIS for funding.  Applications must be submitted by midday on Friday 27th February 2015.


Consideration 1 – Your Audience.  The programme should be purpose built with the audience in mind – i.e. inexperienced young employees who haven’t worked in a company for long and have limited experience of working with colleagues, managers, partners and customers; or more experienced employees who need upskilling.  It is probably best not to mix your audience for the soft skills component of your programme, however you could do so for the business curriculum.


Consideration 2 – Programme Structure.  Large employers often have the in-house resources to create, deliver and manage an employee development programme.

Few SMEs have the in-house resources to provide such a programme, and don't employ sufficient staff to justify the cost of running a complete in-house programme, so they need to outsource portions of their programme to an external training provider.

If you fall into this category then when looking for a provider, see that their programme is tailored – or customisable – to the experience levels and needs of your employees.  The business and soft skills elements of their programme should cover:

Look for a programme with a duration of about 1 year, with classroom sessions spaced approximately monthly as this lessens the impact on the employee’s day-to-day business activities.  This way your employees will have time to development their knowledge and skills between sessions.  See if the programme can extend to a 2nd year to develop their knowledge and skills further, in-line with the development of their engineering skills.  That way you’ll increase the likelihood of attracting and/or retaining these employees for the long-term, making it an even more worthwhile investment.


Consideration 3 – Location.  You only have a few employees who will go through a portion of, or the whole programme then, go for a programme that brings together employees from other local employers so that your employees can start to build a local business network, as well as a supportive cohort with whom they can discuss issues that arise as they start applying their new knowledge and skills.  Ideally the location will be commutable from your office.


Consideration 4 – Experienced Instructors.  See that the business and soft skills instructors are experienced business people who can bring their career experiences into the classroom.  If they have employed young people before then they can better understand the journey your young employees are on, together with your more experienced employees.


In summary, the benefits of offering an attractive development programme are significant and will pay substantial dividends when executed well.  As an Employer it will enable you to retain employees who will contribute to the future growth of your company.  Your employees will know they will be invested in for the long-term, and that their careers will be given a solid foundation on which to build their future.