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Dearth of engineers a major concern for majority of UK tech companies

The IET has published its 2019 'Skills and Demand in Industry' report, which reveals that over half of UK engineering and technology companies believe that a shortage of engineers threatens their business.

Demand for engineers is continuing to rise, although many companies are struggling to recruit candidates with the right skills. According to the report, 60 per cent of employers consider recruitment of engineering and other technical staff to be their biggest barrier to achieving their goals over the next three years.

The report [PDF] was based on extended telephone interviews with 701 engineering and technology employers across the UK from April to June 2019.

The IET also found that almost half of the companies surveyed (48 per cent) have had difficulties finding candidates with the right skills while recruiting. UK companies are pessimistic about the near future, with just 20 per cent expecting this situation to improve over the next three to five years and 53 per cent considering a shortage of engineers to be a threat to their business.

While many companies have been expanding their technical workforce, 48 per cent report gaps in the skills of their apprentices and other trainees, representing a more than 50 per cent leap since the last report was published in 2017. Many people entering the industry have good academic knowledge but limited practical workplace skills, employers 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,” said Joanna Cox, head of policy at the IET.

“Companies are taking action to reduce the skills shortages and skills 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 in our 2017 survey; more companies report difficulties finding the skills they need. The shortage of engineering or technical skills at a professional level is a mounting problem.”

81 per cent of the companies surveyed felt that they had a responsibility to support people in their transition from education into work, although the IET found that there is a lack of engagement with young people preparing to enter the workplace. Just 28 per cent were aware that the new T-Level qualifications (an A-Level equivalent including on-the-job learning) require students to take work experience – with just 43 per cent intending to offer it – and only 23 per cent go to schools or careers events to talk about engineering careers. However, most companies liable to pay the Apprenticeship Levy reported that they were using it, with 32 per cent already having engineering and technical apprentices.

The survey also found that the fraction of women in the engineering and technical workforce is stagnant at 11 per cent, while just 12 per cent of businesses are actively trying to improve the diversity of their technical workforce (with regards to disability, ethnicity or LGBT+ status).

“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,” said Cox.

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