Metrology is the science of measurement and these skills are vital across all major growth sectors of the global economies, enabling innovation, jobs, and industry sustainability. As a member of the Coordinate Metrology Society (CMS) and the current past chair of the Coordinate Metrology Society Conference, I have been involved in the organization’s education and certification initiatives. As a group leader for training at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in the United Kingdom, we have been focused on the need for metrology training, education and STEM activities introduced through a network of apprenticeship programs and Continued Professional Development (CPD).
NPL lies at the center of UK’s Metrology Skills Agenda, and driving the development of a national training program for Applied Metrology Skills—an industry led curriculum that is integrated into academic and vocational qualifications, workplace learning schemes and industrial apprenticeships.
This approach is aimed at inspiring the next generation of skilled metrologists, delivering a pipeline of talent to industry, and tackling the skills shortage.
Industry Feedback Says Metrology Occupation is Important
NPL conducted a recent survey among industry managers with 75% of those participants rating metrology skills as very important to their company. For clarity, the term ‘metrologist’ was used in the assessment, which covers a range of job roles including, but not limited to, measurement engineer, manufacturing engineer, inspector, calibration technician, quality engineer, testing technician, and coordinate measurement engineer.
In order to have a better understanding of the number of metrology related jobs within industry, we asked the managers how many metrologists they employ in their organization. The answers to this question varied significantly, with some companies only employing one metrology specialist. However, the majority employed between three and 10 metrologists, while one enterprise employed over 100 metrologists.
The Skills Gap
A skills gap exists when an existing employee is not fully proficient in their role and is not able to perform their job to the required standard. The majority of managers in the survey stated that metrology skills gaps have an impact on their business, with 50% believing this to be a significant or fairly significant impact.
A skills shortage also exists when employers are unable to fill or have difficulty in filling vacancies because they are unable to find applicants with the appropriate skills, qualifications or experience. The majority of managers surveyed believed that metrology skills shortages are having some sort of impact on their business, with 64% citing the impact to be significant or fairly significant. The main reasons employers find it difficult to recruit people with the required metrology skills are due to 1) the lack of necessary specialist skills (45%), 2) low numbers of applicants (29%) and 3) insufficient experience (13%).
Training Provided for Metrologists
Nearly all managers confirmed that their organization undertakes some form of metrology related training with their existing employees, with the majority using on the job training to do this (57%). Others employ a mixture of training methods including on the job training, coaching and mentoring, and off the job training (50%). The majority (56%) spends less than 10% of their overall training budget on metrology related training and development. However, 11% stated that they do not spend any of their budget on metrology related training and development, which could be a contributory factor as to why there are prevailing skills gaps within metrology jobs.
The overall survey findings provide compelling evidence of prevailing skills gaps and skills shortages across metrology industries, which adversely affect productivity, quality, technical development across industry and more. The lack of formal and nationally recognized applied training courses in metrology and the inadequate coverage of metrology related content within existing STEM courses and apprenticeships are certainly contributing factors.
Survey respondents strongly agreed that metrology skills and knowledge are also required in a range of existing STEM related apprenticeships and occupations. A number of respondents specifically mentioned that current engineering and other STEM apprenticeships do not sufficiently cover metrology related skills and knowledge and are not relevant to metrology occupations, such as calibration technicians.
Demand to Solve the Metrology Skills Shortage
Participants taking the NPL survey represented the full range of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industries. However, the majority of responses came from the calibration and testing industry, followed by the aerospace, manufacturing, and scientific research industries. Individuals working in a range of other industries including automotive, nuclear, oil and gas and government agencies also added their opinions as well.
There was overwhelming support for a metrology apprenticeship with 95% of practitioners agreeing that this means of training would be an effective way to develop the skills and knowledge required by industry. The majority also agreed this method of knowledge transfer would be beneficial to their individual organizations. This survey has justified work toward a professional metrology apprenticeship program in the UK. Initiatives in the United States, such as the Level-One and Level-Two Certification programs provided by the Coordinate Metrology Society, is also a crucial part of the solution to provide the necessary competencies required for the new industrial revolution.
Keith Bevan is the past chair of the Coordinate Metrology Society. The Coordinate Metrology Society is comprised of users, service providers, and OEM manufacturers of close-tolerance industrial coordinate measurement systems, software, and peripherals. For more information, visit www.cmsc.org. The Coordinate Metrology Society Conference (CMSC) is sponsored by the Coordinate Metrology Society.
NPL is the UK’s National Measurement Institute, providing the measurement capability that underpins the UK’s prosperity and quality of life. Based in Teddington, south-west London, NPL employs over 600 scientists. For more information visit: www.npl.co.uk or find them on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn: https://twitter.com/NPL, www.facebook.com/npldigital, and www.linkedin.com/company/national-physical-laboratory.