Tackling the STEM skills gap in UK manufacturing

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When asking someone to list their top ten most glamorous careers, it is a fairly safe bet that engineering doesn’t feature, let alone appear near the top. Yet, despite the stereotypical image many people have, engineering is fundamental to so many of the things we take for granted in life – from roads and buildings to bridges, utilities such as power and water, right through to manufacturing everything we use, wear, touch or eat in everyday life.

Tackling the STEM skills gap in UK manufacturingAsk the very same people about some of the most exciting developments in recent years and the list will inevitably make reference to technological developments such as AI, robotics, smartphones and wearable technology. The irony is, for these ‘sexy’ emerging technologies to exist and continue to evolve, engineers are absolutely critical.

While the government has set ambitious targets to challenge the current skills crisis in the longer term, there is still a huge recruitment challenge in the immediate future – perhaps compounded by the need for ever more skilled engineers in an era of increased digitisation.

Bosch Rexroth is an engineering company which is committed to helping UK industry and its workforce to embrace the opportunities offered by connected factories and Industry 4.0. Iona Strawson, Senior Design Engineer at Bosch Rexroth, shares her journey into engineering and gives insights into her mission to help challenge the UK skills gap.

Iona Strawson: “Engineering is in everything”

When asked how she first found her way into the role, Iona says: “It was my Dad that initially suggested engineering to me, but the more I read about it, the more it seemed the perfect fit”. With a love of hands-on problem solving and tinkering with tools as a younger child, Iona went on to study maths and physics at A-level. Unsure of what to do next, it was only after contemplating joining the army that her father suggested an engineering role.

Fast forward to today – via both a bachelors and masters degree, numerous years of experience including marriage and motherhood, and Iona is now a senior mechanical design engineer and design team leader at Bosch Rexroth. When asked what she loves about the role, she overflows with enthusiasm. She can’t name just one thing… there’s a list.

“I love that every day is different. There’s always a new problem to be tackled, a new challenge to rise to. Ultimately we don’t know what’s coming through the door next. It will be factory automation but, beyond that, it could be anything. I love that I get to be creative and think outside the box. I can collaborate with my team and talk jobs through, finding new ways to look at things. There is a prestige to being an engineer as well. People’s jaws tend to drop when I tell them what I do!”

STEMNET Ambassador

As well as her day job, Iona is an ambassador for STEMNET, volunteering her time, enthusiasm and experience to inspire young people to progress further in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. As someone who struggled to identify her career aspirations as a youngster, Iona was keen to be able to offer the benefit of her experience to children contemplating their futures.

“My advice would be to forget everything you think you know about engineering and what an engineer does. It’s not all oil, hard hats and big machinery, which I think puts a lot of young women off. Engineering is in everything – if you can think of something you’re interested in, whether it’s cars, buildings, musical instruments, films, computers – there will be an engineer involved somewhere along the way.

“One of the most common worries for kids looking at STEM careers is the grade requirements and the prospect of being in charge of big machines. I’m there to reassure them that engineering is a really accessible career path. There are multiple ways in and not all of them involve degrees and PhDs. Whilst it’s good to push yourself to achieve the best you can, don’t be put off with the idea that you’ll need straight As and be the top of the class. Engineering is about much more than grades.”

As a business, Bosch Rexroth echoes Iona’s passion about tackling the skills gap in UK manufacturing. With products that are designed to simplify processes, coupled with training created to upskill existing engineers and train new ones, the business is focussed on the future.

For more information about Bosch Rexroth products, careers and training opportunities, please visit

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