Industrial strategy only viable if it tackles skills gap, say employers

Associations, Jobs, Reports — By on December 11, 2017 at 7:30 AM

New report reveals lack of diversity in engineering and technical workforce could be fuelling recruitment shortage

  • 81% of businesses surveyed agree that more employers need to provide work experience to help improve the supply of engineers and technicians
  • Just over one in ten (11%) of the UK engineering and technical workforce is female
  • 87% of employers don’t have LGBT/BAME diversity initiatives in place (3% don’t know/refused)
  • Only 15% of employers make particular efforts to attract and retain women in engineering and technical roles (beyond observing statutory equality requirements – 4% don’t know/refused)
  • 61% consider the recruitment of engineering and technical staff with the right skills as a barrier to achieving business objectives over the next three years.

Nearly two thirds (61%) of the engineering and technical workforce consider the recruitment of engineering and technical staff with the right skills as a barrier to achieving their business objectives over the next three years, results from the 2017 Skills and Demand in Industry report, published by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) show today. 75% agree that tackling the skills problem is fundamental to making the Government’s Industrial Strategy viable.

The majority of businesses (78%) believe that digital technologies and automation in UK engineering and technology sectors will advance rapidly over the next five to 10 years, yet only 30% have firm plans to introduce or extend their use of digital technologies in the next three years. However, where businesses do plan to increase digitisation of their processes, there is wide acceptance, by 85% of businesses, that they will have to recruit people with new skills, up-skill their present staff, or do both.

87% of companies surveyed do not have LGBT/BAME diversity initiatives in place and only 15% make particular efforts to attract and retain women in engineering and technical roles (beyond observing statutory equality requirements). Just over one in ten (11%) of the UK engineering and technical workforce is female.

To address these growing concerns over the skills gaps in the engineering workforce, 81% agree that more employers need to provide work experience to help improve the supply chain, but shockingly only 30% of all employers acknowledge that it is their responsibility to invest in the necessary training to meet the skills challenges posed by increased digitisation and automation. Encouragingly 40% are proactive in offering engineering apprenticeships in their business, with about one third (31%) counting at least one engineering or technical apprentice among their workforce at the time of the survey.

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

“Employers tell us that tackling this problem is fundamental to making the Government’s Industrial strategy viable. We must now bring businesses, academia and Government together and strengthen their working relationships to ensure that the next generation of talent has the right practical and technical skills to meet future demand. We are urging more businesses to provide more quality work experience opportunities for young people and more apprenticeships, enabling employees to earn while they learn and develop their work-readiness.”

“Engineering has the potential to make a huge contribution to increasing productivity in the UK. With many high value jobs being created through digitisation, we need more young people to see the exciting opportunities engineering presents. Businesses also need to widen their talent pool, and see the benefits that come from a more balanced and diverse workforce.”

In response to the skills demand, the IET has launched ‘Work Experience for All’, a new campaign which brings together employers, universities, further education colleges and policy makers to collaborate on developing the quality of work experience and internships for those in education or training, to improve the supply of engineers and technicians coming into the industry.

This is the twelfth year that the IET has published its skills report. The report is based on quantitative research commissioned by the IET and conducted by market research agency BMG Research. The insight for this report was gathered from telephone interviews with 800 UK employers of engineering and technology staff, representing a range of engineering sectors and sizes and drawn from across the UK in May and June 2017. Businesses

were identified using standard industrial classifications. The research is supplemented by 11 in-depth interviews with individual organisations of different sizes undertaken in September 2017. While there is some optimism from employers about being able to recruit the engineers they need, concerns about skills gaps and diversity issues, the role of education, and a lack of experienced engineering staff all come under the spotlight. Findings include:

Skills and Industrial Strategy

  • 61% consider the recruitment of engineering and technical staff with the right skills as a barrier to achieving business objectives over the next three years.
  • 75% agree that tackling the skills problem is fundamental to making the Government’s Industrial Strategy viable.

Readiness for advanced automation

  • 75% of those that plan to introduce/increase the use of digital technologies need to develop new skills in their existing workforce.
  • 30% have firm plans to introduce or extend their current use of digital technologies in the next three years.

Job growth and skills supply

  • 39% reported an increase in their engineering and technical workforce over the last three years.
  • 46% face difficulties in the availability of people in the external labour market with the right skills when they try to recruit.
  • 51% expect to employ more engineering and technical staff over the next three years.

Training and skills development

  • 31% currently count at least one engineering or technical apprentice among their workforce.
  • 59% have arranged or funded technical or job-specific training for engineering or technical staff over the last 12 months.

Work-readiness

  • 30% of all employers acknowledge that it is their responsibility to invest in the necessary training to meet the skills challenges posed by increased digitisation and automation.
  • 81% agree that more employers need to provide work experience for those in education or training to help improve the supply of engineers and technicians.

Diversity in the workplace

  • 87% don’t have LGBT/BAME diversity initiatives in place (3% don’t know/refused)
  • 11% of the UK engineering and technical workforce is female.
  • 15% make particular efforts to attract and retain women in engineering and technical roles (beyond observing statutory equality requirements) (4% don’t know/refused).

The IET’s Skills and Demand in Industry Report 2017 is available here: www.theiet.org/skills

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The doubling of the sample size and identification of businesses by SIC code represents a significant change to the methodology of the annual IET Skills Survey. Although the changes provide greater accuracy and more reliable results, they do limit the ability to compare with previous IET Skills Surveys.

Quotes from engineering employers (taken from The IET’s Skills and Demand in Industry Report 2017)

Skills gap

  • Josh Barber, the 2016 IET Apprentice of the Year and Tendering Engineer at ABB, a global industrial engineering business, considers work experience as critical to encouraging the skills supply among young engineers: “It is my opinion that work experience is key to inspiring the next generation of engineers. I was fortunate enough to spend time with an engineering business that provided me with a valuable insight into the business, as well as the industry, at a time when the world of work seemed so far away.

“It is at this time that experiences you create stay with you, and there is nothing better than being able to make an informed decision about your future by experiencing the industry you wish to pursue.”

  • Stewart Evans from Ilec-Imec Building Services, agrees that employers who are proactive about supporting younger people can benefit: “One problem we still see among younger people is a misunderstanding of what engineering actually is as a profession.

​“Many people still think it is all about hi-vis jackets and manual jobs. They don’t understand all of the other work that goes on. It isn’t good enough for employers or individuals to sit there complaining. You have to do something yourself and you have to get your company to help. I have had a very good career and I think it is important to give something back.

“I’m involved with the trade body going into colleges, doing talks, giving mock interviews and mentoring people. All of that plays a part in getting the right people for our company and our industry.”

Economic climate

  • Edward Brown, Project Manager for a control systems business in the North West, says: “We already struggle to recruit from the pool here in the UK, so future skills supply is a concern for us. We need people with high-level skills and we have had to assume that because we need them, we will have to keep them. The alternative for an industry like ours – and the economy as a whole – is if we can’t get the right people here in the UK, the work will go elsewhere. It’s very different to the low skills work which gets talked about.”
  • Valerie Todd CBE, Talent & Resources Director for the Crossrail infrastructure project, says that in the transport sector, Brexit represents a significant challenge: “The top three concerns are our reliance on large numbers of EU workers in our ancillary services; the number of people who have worked here a long time and whose talent, expertise and skills we don’t want to lose; and that in any organisation, you deliver more succinctly, more efficiently and more productively when you have certainty. There is a risk of a long period of uncertainty having a corrosive effect on productivity.”
  • Jason Phin, Training Solutions Business Manager at Siemens says that Brexit brings into sharper focus the need to find solutions to perennial skills challenges in the UK and, for instance, promote engineering careers and STEM subjects at UK schools: “When we consider the restrictions on free movement that Brexit could cause, we need to actively promote interest in STEM subjects and activities to ensure we can recruit the talent that UK industry will need in the future. This provides us with a great opportunity to reframe the importance of studying subjects that can lead to successful engineering careers and focus on supporting home-grown talent.”

Digitisation

  • Jason Phin, Training Solutions Business Manager for Siemens says that the main challenge of digitisation will be to ensure that skills development in the existing workforce keeps pace with digitisation: “Our strategy for digitisation is to develop these skills from our existing workforce. In that sense we will always have a skills gap between what need and what we have now. The main challenge that I see is one of agility: we have to move at least at the same speed as the technology and maintain that agility in our workforce.”
  • Edward Brown, Project Manager for a control systems business: “Overall we’re very positive about automation and it’s an opportunity because it pushes us up the value chain and increases our differentiation. Despite that, we continue to find recruitment very difficult and with new technologies it will be even harder to find people.”

Diversity

  • Maguerite Ulrich of Veolia UK & Ireland believes that diversity on all levels – not just gender – isn’t just the right thing to do but that it drives business success: “In a recent global survey, 85% of corporate diversity and talent leaders agreed that a diverse and inclusive workforce is crucial to encouraging different perspectives and ideas that drive innovation.”
  • Jason Phin, Siemens, says employers have to be proactive in order to increase diversity: “There are a lot of entrenched attitudes in engineering, both regarding women and other groups in society.

“Employers have to be proactive and visible in changing representation in the workplace.”

  • Tim Squires of Squires Gear and Engineering Ltd says, a lack of diversity can also be driven by entrenched social attitudes outside of the workplace: “We are an equal opportunities employer but I can honestly say that I have never had a female applicant for a job on the shop floor. This may be because our particular roles here are very physically demanding but if you look at other areas of our supply chain there are more women than ever filling key engineering roles.

“Again, young people at school are often led to believe that factory work is dirty and only or unskilled, unqualified men when in reality any decent engineering company will provide excellent conditions and equal opportunities, with some incredible starting salaries, career prospects and transferable skills.

“The issue is that we need more collaboration between education and industry to inform young people of the opportunities available.”

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