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1 in 2 UK engineering and tech firms are concerned that a shortage of engineers is a business threat

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)

5 min read Partner content

60% of employers report recruitment of engineering and technical staff with the right skills is the biggest anticipated barrier to achieving businesses objectives over the next three years, according to the IET's skills report.

Demand for engineers continues to rise, but 60% of employers report recruitment of engineering and technical staff with the right skills as the biggest anticipated barrier to achieving their business objectives over the next three years. This is according to the 2019 Skills and Demand in Industry report, published today by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).

The report also highlights that nearly half of companies (48%) report difficulties in respect of the skills available in the external labour market when trying to recruit, with only 20% expecting the supply of engineering and technical skills into industry to improve over the next 3-5 years. 53% are concerned that a shortage of engineers in the UK is a threat to their business.

From a positive perspective, almost one in three employers (31%) said they have expanded their engineering and technology workforce over the last three years and fewer companies now have internal skills gaps when compared with two years ago (22% compared to 25% in 2017). However, those companies with internal skills gaps have seen them widen across the board, from apprentices and trainees through to fully-qualified professionals. 48% report gaps in the skills of their apprentices or other young trainees – which is up from 30% in 2017.

The supply or quality of young people entering the industry is a key concern, as well as their workplace skills. 73% of employers, that have experienced a shortage of skills in the external labour market, have had problems with candidates who have academic knowledge but not the required workplace skills. This was closely followed by the supply or quality of young people entering or seeking to enter the industry to pursue engineering or technical careers (72%).

To address these growing concerns over the skills gaps and limitations in the engineering workforce, 81% agree that businesses have a responsibility to support the transition from education and training into the workplace, to get people with the right skills, but shockingly only 23% of all employers are going into schools or careers events to help young people understand and value engineering careers.

In terms of technical and vocational routes, only 28% of employers are aware that the new T Level qualifications require students to undertake work experience. 59% of employers state that they have the capacity to offer work experience as part of T Levels, but only 43% say they intend to offer it. However, the intention to offer an industrial placement could be potentially lower if employers were clear about the 45-day placement requirement.

Encouragingly, the majority of companies that are liable to pay the Apprenticeship Levy have reported that they are using it, with nearly half of these reporting that it is easy to use (48%). 32% of companies surveyed have engineering or technical apprentices in place, with an average of between two and three apprentices at every participating company.

Just over one in 10 businesses (12%) are taking or have taken any action to increase the diversity of their engineering, IT and technical workforces in terms of ethnicity, LGBT+ status and disability. The proportion of women within the engineering and technical workforce remains at 11%.

Joanna Cox, IET Head of Policy, said: “As the UK continues to go through a period of economic uncertainty, the skills shortage in engineering remains an ongoing concern for engineering companies in the UK.

“Companies are taking action to reduce the skills shortages and skill gaps, however, there is a lot more to be done. We’ve found that in many key areas the results are worse than they were to be in our 2017 survey – more companies report difficulties finding the skills they need in the external labour market when trying to recruit; the shortage of engineering or technical skills at a professional level is a mounting problem; and there has also been a significant decrease in companies providing training at a professional level.

“There has been no progress in diversifying the engineering and technical workforce since 2017 and yet attracting under-represented groups will widen the pool of trained engineers and reduce skills shortages and gaps.

“We are urging more businesses to provide more quality work experience opportunities for young people to help with the rollout of T Levels and more apprenticeships, enabling employees to earn while they learn and develop their work-readiness.

“There needs to be deeper engagement between employers and the education system to produce a talent pipeline that can sustain a thriving UK economy. Employers, educators, government and professional institutions like the IET need to focus on how best to inspire the next generation of engineers and technicians.”

This is the thirteenth year that the IET has published its skills report, based on extended telephone interviews with 701 engineering and technology employers across the UK in April, May and June 2019. This report is based on research the IET commissioned, conducted by market research agency BMG Research. The last skills survey with comparative data was carried out in 2017.

The IET’s Skills and Demand in Industry Report 2019 is available here.

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