Engineering the Future: Misconceptions contributing to skills shortage

Monday 19 May 2014

Misconceptions about what engineers do and the pay rates that can be expected are contributing to the skills shortage in the sector, according to a new report.

'An Insight into Modern Manufacturing' from Engineering the Future claims that a lack of knowledge about the sector is causing a dearth of talent.

Indeed, there is a lack of understanding among young people about engineering, creating a scarcity in the talent pipeline.

This has worrying implications for a sector already struggling to source the candidates it needs.

The engineering sector is also experiencing the beginnings of a wave of retirement, with key skills exiting along with the older workforce.

Engineering the Future claims the government must take action as soon as possible, as engineers, whom are predominantly contractors, with over 30-years experience will soon retire.

Andrew Fahey, commercial director at Brookson, said: "The engineering sector is certainly standing at a precipice. Research is constantly telling us that demand for skilled workers in the industry is among the greatest in the country, but with the gap between demand and supply of contract workers expanding, the sector could find itself hitting a growth ceiling in the near future.

"We know that over the next decade we will need to add 87,000 engineers per year and Engineering UK claims these must have at least level four skills. If we can't get more youngsters into STEM subjects, this target will be unachievable. Of course, contractors can play a key role in filling these roles. But availability is declining dramatically and in order for them to do their jobs effectively, they need to be supported by a steady stream of newly qualified engineers."

The role the engineering sector plays in the UK economy should certainly make it a priority. Indeed, the skills of engineers contribute to key industries, such as manufacturing.

Engineering the Future explained that manufacturing companies are currently well placed to deliver growth, which is done through an emphasis on innovation, quality and increased service offerings. However, without engineering talent, this will not be possible to sustain.

Indeed, several interviewees in Engineering the Future's research noted a particular struggle in recruiting senior design engineers.

The problem is greater among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with one reporting that they struggled because they were not large or well-known.

While smaller firms are often the technological leaders, thanks to the innovative entrepreneurial spirit, if they are unable to source the specialist workforce they need, survival becomes a challenge.

In fact, an SME told Engineering the Future that they spend six-months trying to find a candidate for a certain role and in the end had to rely on the experience of the older generation.

"It's worrying to us that businesses are spending up to six months to find the perfect candidate,"  Mr Fahey said. "This acts as a cap on growth and is, in effect, a ticking time bomb. At a time when businesses need to seize momentum and push forward, we can see that the lack of talent is causing a lot of instability."  

By Victoria McDonnell

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