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Why is The Engineering Industry Facing a Shortage of Skilled Workers?

  • Publish Date: Posted about 2 years ago

​The UK engineering and manufacturing industry employs 5 million people and makes up a significant proportion of the working population.

Despite this, the Institution of Engineering and Technology estimates a shortfall of workers in the STEM sector which equates to an average of 10 unfilled roles per business.

So what are the reasons for this shortage of skilled workers in UK STEM industries? And how does this affect the engineering industry?

In this post, we’ll bring you up to speed on the state of UK engineering. Plus, we’ll explore why the engineering industry as a whole is facing a skills shortage.

State of the UK Engineering Industry in 2022

•The impact of COVID-19 hit the engineering industry hardest. As many as 85% of firms noticed the impact of the engineering skills gap.

•More than 200,000 construction engineers have left the sector since the start of the pandemic. Almost 50% were aged 45-55.

•In a skills survey from the Institution of Engineering and Technology, almost half of engineering businesses said they were experiencing difficulties in recruiting the right talent-levels.

•A report by engineering and project-management consultancy Atkins suggests it could take as long as 50 years to match BAME employment levels in other sectors.

•People with disabilities aren’t getting access to engineering work. Recent stats show that STEM industries employ 75% fewer people with registered disabilities, compared with other industries.

•Women are not represented in engineering, compared to other sectors. A report by Engineering UK shows they account for less than 15% of all UK engineers.

Why is There an Engineering Skills Shortage?

Education: The Missing Middle

The University of Cambridge released a report entitled‚ ’The UK Innovation Report 2021’ which showed over 40% of all UK university leavers graduate with STEM degrees.

But Britain now faces a “missing middle” of skilled entrants from Higher Technical Education.

Designed for young people who completed further education but didn’t want to go to University, Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs) let students develop practical and technical skills that improve their workforce readiness.

However, compared to countries like the US (36%) and Canada (22%), low numbers of UK students take up HTQs.

Rates suggest that less than 12% of UK students choose to engage with learning at this level. And the result is a skills shortage that’s not helping the engineering industry.

skills shortage

An Ageing Workforce

By 2040, it’s predicted that one in seven of us will be aged over 75.

And with an ageing workforce, fewer young people will be coming through the pipeline.

To tackle this problem, many firms are bringing in new incentives to encourage older workers to join new industry sectors. For example, Landmarc provides training to the MOD. And recently, they’ve been running incentives to attract the “missing million” of workers aged 50-64 who aren’t in employment but want to be. Incentives like these help to remove barriers and encourage a greater diversity of skills in the industry.

Plus, according to Glen Lambert – Head of School for Construction, Science and Engineering at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL)—lack of training or apprenticeship is the main reason for low numbers in the UK rail industry.

Glen is calling on industry leaders to invest in apprenticeships as a way to fill the predicted skills shortage of 120,000 over the next 10 years.

“There’s been a lack of investment from employers in training young people, they prefer to go out to agencies and hire qualified and trained people, which isn’t a bad thing. But the only way we’re going to fix this skill shortage through this ageing workforce is to train new people into the industry.”

Barriers to Access

Of course, it’s not only age and education that drives the engineering skills shortage. Other reasons include:

Lack of awareness: In a 2020 report by Engineering UK, almost half of 11 to 19-year-olds said they knew little or almost nothing about what engineers do. And this lack of knowledge discourages young people from considering engineering as their future career.

Lack of career advice: In the same report from Engineering UK, less than 25% of 11 to 19- year-olds had heard about engineering as a career option from a career advisor. What’s more, despite the critical importance of engineering, only 40% of Higher Education engineering graduates enter the industry within six months.

BAME candidates: The Association of Black and Minority Ethnical Engineers (AFBE-UK) say that, despite 30% of engineering graduates coming from BAME backgrounds, only 9% make it into the engineering industry.

But despite the grim outlook, some individuals are making efforts to change things. For example, Assistant Professor in the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Automotive Engineering at Coventry University, Dr Tosha Nembhard, arranges regular AFBE-UK workshops to help students understand how to navigate potential barriers.

People with disabilities: A report by disability charity scope shows 67% of British people feel uncomfortable about disabilities. And this creates a significant barrier for strong engineering candidates to find work.

In reality, engineers with disabilities have adapted to an able-bodied world. And this adaptability is valuable to engineering workplaces. Other skills people with disabilities have developed include resilience, persistence and problem-solving.

Women: Being a woman and training to become an engineer is getting easier. But a UK study by Microsoft showed 70% of girls said they weren’t comfortable pursuing a career in engineering unless they saw more equal representation.

Lack of representation is also a problem in the US. There, the number of men and women in legal and healthcare industries is almost equal, yet women make up only 13% of US engineers.

More could be done to encourage applications from women. For example, this may include promoting women into leadership or giving them more platforms to share their experiences.

Metalis is Working to Solve the Engineering Industry Skills Shortage

Data shows that recruiters help around 300,000 unemployed people to find work every year. But it falls on everyone to play a part in solving the current skills shortage problems in the engineering industry.

And while many employers lean toward finding good degree graduates, in reality, they’re missing out on a range of candidates with backgrounds they may not have considered before.

So, while we can’t provide solutions to all the problems surrounding the skills shortage, Metalis does have a wealth of engineering industry expertise to support your recruitment challenges. And we call on industry leaders to reflect on what they can do to open doors for more underrepresented groups.

Take a look at our current engineering vacancies. Or, contact us to discuss your needs.

Metalis has a team of industry experts who can help you find your next best hire in the engineering industry.