As the UK government's spending on infrastructure and engineering projects increases, so does the demand for highly qualified engineering workers

Influx of foreign engineers to UK mightier than ever

The number of non-EU engineers recruited by UK companies has increased by 36 per cent in the last year highlighting the growing local skills shortage.

With the economic recovery picking up momentum after several lean years, manufacturing and technology firms are back in the hiring mode but failing to find adequately qualified workers locally, forcing them to lure in foreign talent.

According to SJD Accountancy, one of the UK’s largest providers of accountancy services for the engineering sector, the number of work permits to non-EU engineers issued under the National Shortage Occupation list has risen by 36 per cent over the past 12 months

The official Home Office figures show that 1,171 engineers from non-EU countries entered the UK in 2013/14, up from 859 in 2012/13, the biggest rise since the recession began in 2008.

The numbers refer to work permits issued to non-EU engineers filling roles listed on the National Shortage Occupation list, which is maintained by the Home Office. Candidates sponsored by employers on the National Shortage Occupation list can obtain a work permit under a ‘fast track’ scheme. Engineering occupations on the list include civil engineers, mechanical engineers and electrical engineers. 

However, SJD Accountancy said that even more engineers are being brought in from overseas than those sponsored for jobs on the UK National Shortage Occupation list. 

“Skill shortages are an ongoing worry in the engineering sector, but despite widespread awareness of the severity of the issue, little progress is being made,” said Simon Curry, chief executive officer of SJD Accountancy.

“These numbers show that investment in infrastructure, which the government has earmarked for significant expansion over the coming decades, is at risk if the UK is unable to match demand for engineering skills. Skill shortages cause delays and push up costs for contractors.”

SJD Accountancy pointed out that spending on infrastructure projects, which heavily use engineering skills, has risen from around £41bn annually between 2005 and 2010 to £45bn annually in the last three years. The National Infrastructure Plan (NIP), which was announced by the government last December, plans to spend £375bn on infrastructure projects up to 2030 and beyond, putting further pressure on the UK’s limited engineering talent pool.

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