Who wants to be an engineer? Just 50 a year, say universities

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The Independent Online

Fears are growing that the energy sector could face a recruitment crisis as the number of engineering graduates dwindles.

Only around 50 electrical engineers are graduating each year from UK universities, forcing some companies to recruit engineers from countries as far afield as Serbia and Poland to make up the shortfall.

A report published by the Sector Skills Council found that there was a particular shortage in lineworkers who build, repair and maintain electricity pylons and towers.

The council, which targets skills gaps, estimates transmission companies need an extra 600 lineworkers for work due to start next month. There are around 340 currently in work, but by 2012 an additional 1,875 lineworkers will be needed. The report said that based on trainee recruitment levels, only around 200 trainees are set to qualify each year.

Steve Collier, strategy development manager from the Sector Skills Council, said that lineworkers can now earn on average £50,000 a year. The skills shortage was exacerbated as lineworkers and other types of electrical engineers are poached to work overseas.

Michael Sterling, vice-chancellor of Birmingham University and former president of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, said: "There is the worry that if you don't have UK engineers, you have to use consultants from overseas as well, undermining the whole idea of the UK operating on a 'knowledge economy'."

The Home Office is reviewing how it selects immigrants looking for work in the UK, and which professions are classified as essential. It is expected to announce this week that it plans to introduce a points system.

Strathclyde, Manchester, Southampton and Queens University in Belfast have set up the "Power Academy" providing scholarships for electrical engineering students, which are funded by the industry.