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How can businesses solve the engineering skills shortage?

Lewis Richards details a number of innovative methods to boost attraction and retention of staff

With research from Engineering UK suggesting an additional 1.8m engineers will be needed to bridge the skills gap by 2025, and a recent ECITB report estimating that 91,000 engineers and 29,000 engineering technicians will have retired by 2026 –  it’s clear that the industry is in the midst of a skills shortage. 

However, to prevent the current dearth descending into a crisis – concerted action must be taken. 

So, how can the industry address this?

Improving retention

In the short term, talent shortages are making retaining existing talent more important than ever. 

For all businesses, and especially those companies which employ engineers, it is becoming increasingly difficult to do this. This makes creating a strong, inclusive and supportive working culture highly important. 

Companies can achieve this in a number of ways, such as through increasing training opportunities, offering flexible working and creating an ‘open door’ culture for employee feedback.

Early outreach

In the long term, recruiting young engineers is the number one path to plugging existing and future skills gaps.

There is a lot of work needed to bust the myths around a career in engineering, with some students prone to believing that STEM subjects are boring, too difficult, or that engineering jobs are dull, and require zero creativity. This will require co-ordinated action from stakeholders.

By going into schools, and highlighting to students that they already possess engineering skills such as teamwork, communication and creativity, the sector can start to connect with younger generations.

Apprenticeships

Due to sharp rises in tuition fees, young people are increasingly looking at apprenticeships as an alternative to university education.

By taking advantage of this rise in demand, businesses with talent gaps can train workers from the age of 16, allowing them to access valuable talent pools before they become disillusioned by lack of opportunity. 

Apprenticeships also ensure young engineers are immersed in the sector from the beginning of their course, and develop their skill sets in accordance with changes in the market. 

However, with just 54% of engineering businesses currently training apprentices – and 40% unsure of whether the Apprenticeship Levy is a good thing – it’s clear that more can be done in this area.

Encourage diverse talent pools

Diversity has long been a concern for the engineering sector. Research shows that, in every age group, boys are far more likely to consider career in the industry than girls. Currently, just over one in 10 of the workforce is female.

As it stands, if the industry had as many female engineers as males, skills gaps would significantly be reduced.

In order to remain a powerful industry, the engineering sector must reach people of all backgrounds.

Digital talent

As technology proliferates and different job roles open up, recruitment efforts will need to be focussed on newer fields of engineering, like software and programming.

Currently, 61% of engineering businesses consider hiring skilled staff as a barrier to achieving objectives.

At a time when change is so rapid that 65% of primary school children will eventually work in careers that do not exist today – making sure that technology is at the heart of hiring strategies is key.

The future depends on it

Ultimately, with widespread skills shortages, and thousands  of engineers set to retire from the sector, companies are going to have to act swiftly and innovatively to fill skills gaps.

As a sector that contributes so much to the UK –  employing 19% of the workforce, and contributing£1.23 trillion to the economy – preventing the situation from worsening is crucial. 

While the above methods aren’t a complete list of actions, by attracting more young talent, boosting retention, and putting more emphasis on digital skills – firms can go a long way towards bettering their talent strategies.

Lewis Richards is managing director of engineering recruiters WR Engineering.

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