Tackling the Skills Shortage in the Engineering Sector

EngineeringUK-2015-report-imageOver the last few weeks I’ve heard and read much about the global skills shortage and its impact on the economy. It’s a concern for many business sectors, but in particular for the engineering industry.

I recently sat on a panel discussing the findings of a recent Totaljobs/Boston Consulting Group report on global talent mobility. This research focused on the factors that drive individuals to make global moves, but it also highlighted the critical issue of the global skills shortage. BCG shared some rather scary statistics that bring this to bear.

For example, if Germany continues to grow its economy at the same rate as now, there will be a shortfall of 10 million in skilled labor supply by 2030. In China it will be 25 million.

A recent report published by Engineering UK — The State of Engineering — highlights that the UK is unable to fill up to 55,000 engineering roles every year and that this could cost the British economy up to £27 billion per year. I also recently read a report by a leading global consulting firm that states in the future 60 percent of available roles can only be done by those who have 20 percent of the required skills, another worrying indicator of global skills shortage in the sector.

As far as what the engineering sector’s doing to address this very real issue — there is a lot of focus on the need to engage young people early in their school years to develop a greater interest in mathematics- and science-based subjects that can lead to careers in science and engineering. While both government and business are investing significant resources to make this happen, change won’t happen overnight.

So what can the engineering sector do now?

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  • First, the sector should take a leading position in the way it employs a more flexible workforce, thereby opening up a greater supply of potential talent. To ensure maximum success, organisations need to enzure that their HR processes and policies support the employment of employees who wish to work flexibly.
  • Second, the industry needs to address its gender imbalance — especially in the UK, where according to the Institution of Engineering & Technology, just 8.7 percent of engineering professionals are female (the lowest in the European Union). Greater adoption of flexible working, part-time working, job sharing, and structured “returnship programs” for older mothers will make a step change in attracting greater number of women to the sector.
  • Third, while many engineering firms have consistently invested in apprentice programs, as the retirement age is extending, these businesses should also focus on developing “late career schemes” to attract older, qualified engineers back into the workforce.
  • And lastly, the engineering profession has a great story to tell — it designs and builds tangible things that positively impact society as a whole and the communities in which they work. Engineering businesses need to ensure that their specific employer brand messaging and engagement with external talent pools tells this story with authenticity and passion, and that they deliver against their promises.

While these steps alone will not address the skills crisis, they will go a long way to helping businesses address their shortages sooner rather than later, as well as creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Those who choose to ignore the issue will continue to suffer in lost revenue and higher levels of attrition as their existing workforce comes under greater pressure to carry additional workloads — while their competitors who do address the issues effectively will become the employers of choice.

About the Author

Paul Modley is director of diversity & inclusion at Alexander Mann Solutions, with responsibility for overseeing the strategy development and execution for our defense, engineering and manufacturing sector clients. He has worked in the talent acquisition business for over 20 years, and was head of recruitment for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. For his work on the Games, Pau was awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours.

  • http://www.medievalrecruiter.com/ Medieval Recruiter

    In all the ‘data’ presented here, not one data point touched on how many engineers there actually are, what the salaries they are demanding are, and what companies are willing to pay. I have never had trouble finding skilled labor at any level. I have had trouble finding skilled labor that has taken a vow of poverty as most modern companies demand. I’m also reminded of Peter Cappelli’s book where he sited the specific example of an entry level engineering role with over ten thousand applicants rejected by an automated resume screener as being unqualified. Pardon me if I don’t sweat this ‘shortage.’

    • Coloredcoat

      You’re exactly right. But don’t poke too much fun at the fact that writers of articles like these are low on the critical thinking skills totem pole. It should be obvious that skilled people will not work for the same wages as unskilled, which seems to be the expected case in a lot of scenarios.

      The free market has never had a shortage of anything, certainly not skilled engineers. There have been similar rumors of shortages or coming shortages in many different skilled trades. It’s always a case of “We can’t find the skills we want at $X an hour.” But there are plenty of skilled people out there making a living doing something else or somewhere else for $XX an hour. Seems simple enough.

      These articles pop up all the time. “Coming shortage in XXXX!” Good for a laugh.

      • http://www.medievalrecruiter.com/ Medieval Recruiter

        Good for a laugh until you realize the repeating nature of the meme means people really don’t ever learn.

        As you say, they need to learn the difference between scarcity and a shortage. There’s plenty of scarcity on markets, that why prices emerge. But there are no shortages, because there’s really no case where you literally can’t find something. In all cases I’ve seen, what companies want is findable, they’re just more and more unwilling to pay the price, or in extreme cases of scarcity make other concessions like allowing remote work. Employers are so used to getting whatever they want at whatever price they name, and so used to recruiters mollifying them and Yes-Yes-Yessing them to death on anything they ask for, that they are literally dumbfounded when someone turns them down or doesn’t instantly acquiesce to every demand or ‘requirement’ they list.

        There is no skills shortage coming for employers who understand reality and that if demand out strips supply, wages will go up, and you either pay them or you don’t get the people, plain and simple. Funny, you’d think all employers would get this concept because they all take advantage of it when supply of labor exceeds demand for it. They drop wages like hot rocks in those scenarios. They’re never so quick to realize when it’s time to raise wages though, sometimes even to the point of their entire business failing. And all facilitated to the hilt by HR and recruiting ‘thought leaders’ who can’t think.