Tackling the Skills Shortage in the Engineering Sector

Jun 19, 2015
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

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?

  • 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.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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