Engineering contractor vacancies grow amid 'brain drain'

Thursday 17 April 2014

Engineering contractors are in high demand, according to new figures from APSCo, but the skills shortage is starting to make itself known in the sector.

Contract vacancies have increased by 22 per cent over the last 12 months, rising 5.2 per cent on a monthly basis.

However, a lack of available talent could be putting key projects at risk. For example, the government's creation of HS2 and expansion of Heathrow are important projects for boosting employment, but a weak skills pool may threaten progression.

The situation is compounded by a potential brain drain on the horizon, where highly skilled individuals leave the UK for alternative European engineering hubs.

Matchtech's recent Confidence Index also noted this trend and, concerning, found that many people doubt that the UK will continue to be a world leader in Engineering.

Managing director of Matchtech, Matthew Hancock, said: "Our recent Confidence Index found that over three quarters of UK engineers are doubtful that enough is being done by the government to attract new talent to the engineering industry.

"Over half of all the engineers surveyed said they would either definitely or possibly be prepared to move overseas for work and nearly two thirds believe the UK will cease to be an engineering world leader in the future."

Concerningly, APSCo isn't confident that the government will be able to address the skills shortage, claiming its current plans will come too late.

While officials have acknowledged the need to improve the UK's talent pool, the problem has already taken root.

For example, the proposed HS2 further education college won't be able to address headcount demands by the time it opens in 2017. This is not to say the scheme isn't innovative, but it has happened too late to prevent a skills gap emerging.

Ann Swain, chief executive of APSCo, said: "The investment the government is pumping into our infrastructure network can only be positive news for the UK, but only if this is backed up with the necessary manpower to enable projects to happen.

"As it currently stands major initiatives which, in the long run, will create hundreds if not thousands of jobs, risk being halted or even axed unless action is taken imminently.  We are already facing a brain drain from the UK engineering sector and this will only exacerbate if the government and business leaders don’t take action now."

However, it isn't just Britain that is experiencing a skills problem. John Nurthen, executive director of international development for Staffing Industry Analysts, claims that the same trend can be see elsewhere.

He explained that engineering jobs are growing strongly internationally and skilled British engineers are in high demand.

Consequently, the pressure is on for engineering firms to find ways to attract and retain talent. Failing to do so could leave the UK falling behind in the global race.

Engineering UK claims Britain will need around 87,000 people per year over the next decade to meet demand levels. Professionals will need at least level four skills if they are to help keep the sector stable.

By Victoria McDonnell

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