Skills gap ‘getting worse or not improving’

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Four in 10 project managers who work in engineering think the skills gap in their sector is either getting worse or not improving.

Despite their pessimism, however, over half believe apprenticeships are the best way to fix the problem, according to new survey by the Association for Project Management (APM), the chartered membership organisation for the project profession.

Ahead of National Apprenticeship Week 2024 (February 5-11), APM surveyed over 1,000 project management professionals in several UK sectors including engineering in the poll carried out by national research company Censuswide.

When asked if they thought the skills gap was getting better or worse in their sector, 41% of the engineering project managers said it was either staying the same (26%) or getting worse (15%). Another 50% said it was getting better and 9% said there wasn’t a skills gap in their sector.

The skills gap is generally defined as the disparity between the skills that employers need or find desirable, and the skills possessed by employees or prospective workers, to meet job role demands. The term was coined in the late 1990s and multiple sectors have long raised concerns over the issue, exacerbated by globalisation, the pace of technological change, and specialised skillsets required.

The engineering project managers who thought the skills gap was getting worse said long-term solutions to bridging the problem over the next five years were through apprenticeship programmes (selected by 56%). This was followed by wider recruitment (33%) and additional training at college, university or apprenticeships (22%).

Almost one in five (22%) engineering project managers said their organisation doesn’t run an apprenticeship programme for project professionals.

Professor Adam Boddison OBE, Chief Executive of APM, said: “For decades, the UK has been beset with skills shortages caused by many entrenched and complex reasons, from digital transformation to post-Covid effects, and it is alarming that four in 10 project management professionals in the engineering sector think the problem is either getting worse or staying the same in 2024, despite all the well-publicised and well-intended initiatives in recent years.

“This year’s theme for National Apprenticeship Week is ‘Skills for Life’ and engineering companies should embrace a culture of constant upskilling and retraining, with artificial intelligence, e-commerce and automation transforming how we live and work at a rapidly increasing rate.

“And while it is positive to see many organisations investing in skills by offering apprenticeships, there is a sizeable minority who aren’t doing so currently. Apprenticeships are a fantastic way to help plug the skills gap since they blend a professional qualification with supported learning and development while in a full-time role.

“As the chartered body for the profession, APM champions greater professionalism in projects and driving a better understanding of the importance of the use of expert project professionals in project delivery.”

Meanwhile, the survey found that one in seven (14%) engineering project managers believe there was not enough skilled project professionals to deliver projects successfully in their sector and region. Communication (50%) was the highest-rated option when respondents were asked to pick which skills are most needed, followed by organisation and risk management (both 38%).