UK engineering design firms report growing skills shortages

2 mins read

Engineering design firms - mostly based in the UK - are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and/or retain staff with the right skills and believe that it is now a serious problem across the industry.

The research, carried out by the Engineering Design Show, found that over half of those who responded to the survey were currently experiencing skills shortages, with a further 13 per cent anticipating this in the future.

IR35 was cited as one of the most influential issues, followed by Brexit, then location, with workplace/employee benefits coming next, and finally the image of engineering as a career. Increasing the number of young people working in the sector was seen as very important by many, followed by boosting the number of women and, finally, ethnic minorities.

When asked how the skills shortage problem could be addressed, respondents suggested:

  • 61 per cent - more training
  • 55 per cent - improved education
  • 55 - improved government apprenticeship schemes

Recognition and decent pay, improved job advertising, more emphasis on engineering as a career in schools and improving the type of qualifications, together with the ability to hire highly specialised contractors outside 1R35, were all recommended by those who responded.

Interestingly, fewer than 13 per cent thought that government subsidies were a solution to the problem, although 34 per cent believe government should put more money into training for this sector.

Attitudes towards graduate recruitment and apprenticeships were mixed, with around 22 per cent saying they take on between one and five apprentices each year, but a huge 60 per cent admitted they don’t take part in apprenticeship schemes at all. More positively, around 15 per cent of those surveyed think the number of apprenticeships they offer will increase, while around half believes there will be no change. The figure was much the same for graduate recruitment although the percentage of respondents who take on graduates each year was a little lower.

When asked about the future of recruitment and retention in the industry, 42 per cent expect the problem to worsen over the next five years, 17 per cent hope it will improve, and 20 per cent predict no change.

Comments around reasons for the more positive view included:

  • There is now more emphasis in schools on apprenticeships and technology
  • The Government strategy is for high Gross Value Add (GVA) industries and so we can expect funding from government and industry
  • Engineering will become more interesting to the young in the future
  • People will realise apprentices are the future and on the job training will work as well as employing graduates

The more pessimistic respondents cited a variety of reasons for their views, including:

  • Falling interest in the subject
  • The image of engineering as a profession
  • Lack of competent graduates coming through university – engineers often in older age group
  • The UK will not be united in the future, as Scotland becomes independent
  • Covid and component supply has hit the engineering sector hard
  • Brexit/Covid/Ageing Population
  • Poor education in the UK re manufacturing and engineering subjects – emphasis is on soft skills
  • Nothing will change until a major shortfall causes a severe problem
  • Current government policies towards manufacturing and engineering have not changed despite the pandemic and opportunities to promote engineering are lacking.
  • There seems to be a gradual shift from this sort of work being here in the UK to overseas
  • Lack of apprenticeship schemes.

Engineering Design Show event director Gordon Kirk said, “The results of this survey underline the very real need for skilled, talented, well-trained staff in the engineering design sector and just how crucial a topic it is to the industry."

  • The Engineering Design Show is the UK’s only event entirely dedicated to engineering, electronics and embedded design. The show provides an environment for design engineers to benefit from direct access to the latest products, services and innovations available to the sector. Taking place at Coventry Building Society Arena, Coventry on 19 - 20 October, EDS headline sponsors are Wurth Elektronik and Solid State Supplies.