The UK’s engineer shortage- what you need to know

sbignell@quantumsas.com

Published on
21 October 2021

The engineering and manufacturing sectors account for 18% of all UK employment, and roughly 21.4% of the UK’s GDP. It’s no wonder then that engineers are in incredibly high demand – a demand that isn’t being met.

Why is it that we’re lacking engineering talent in the UK, and what can be done to rectify the situation?

Why is there a shortage of engineers in the UK?

There’s an annual demand for 124,000 engineers and technicians across the country, as well as another 79,000 mixed application roles that require a broad engineering skillset. This number is only looking to rise despite there being a shortfall of roughly 59,000 engineers every year. 

Simply put, there aren’t enough engineers to fill the UK’s growing appetite, and there’s a whole host of reasons for this shortage.

Lack of education/training

Over the last fifty years there’s been a distinct decline in engineering apprenticeships across the UK, with less young people getting involved in the sector than ever before. 

Many organisations (the MIRA Technology Institute, for example) are working to develop training programmes to keep up with the rapidly changing engineering landscape. It’s becoming clear that many graduates are entering the workforce with little-to-no practical experience, which means that it’s more important than ever that courses provide more on-the-job training to ensure graduates hit the ground running. 

Ageing workforce

The average age of engineers in the UK is around 55, which means that over the next ten years, many of them will retire, leaving both a personnel shortage and a distinct knowledge gap. Couple this with the fact that less new engineers are entering the ecosystem, and you can see how the coming deficit could be a real issue for the industry. 

There needs to be large-scale knowledge exchange before this wave of retirement hits to make sure that the years of experience that have accumulated in the current workforce aren’t lost. 

Industry perception

So, why aren’t young people getting into engineering? Many believe that it’s partially down to the outdated misconceptions about what engineering is – there’s poor awareness of what modern engineers do. Ask a young person what a doctor does and they’ll have a good understanding, but ask them what engineers do and they’ll struggle to give you an answer.

There’s a persistent stereotype of engineering being a dirty job, dominated by men who work in inhospitable conditions. While there are, of course, some dirty, harsh engineering jobs, the spectrum of possibilities has broadened substantially over the last few decades, with disciplines like robotics and software engineering becoming increasingly prevalent. The nature of what engineers do and where they work has changed, but the perceptions of the industry have remained stagnant. 

Economic reasons

During the Great Recession, many organisations downsized, meaning that engineers found themselves riding out the recession outside of the industry. Lots of these engineers never returned, which, again, created a distinct talent deficit. 

Stringent recruitment practices

Many engineering roles require previous sector experience, which isn’t always feasible, especially not in the current climate. Organisations who adopt a more flexible talent search process will often find unique, competent people with transferable skills from outside of their niche. 

Historically, the specialist search process may have yielded good results, but it simply isn’t the case in modern engineering. 

Which industries demand the most engineers?

With certain industries thriving, there’s a growing list of engineering opportunities, especially in the UK market.

Green energy

The UK government is striving to achieve net zero by 2050. This, as you might have guessed, is going to require a lot of engineers in order to implement the required technology – the National Grid alone will need another 400,000 energy workers in order to achieve net zero.

Developing tech

Engineers are in short supply in industries such as AI, robotics, cyber security, app development, and many more. This results in an economy where there’s high demand for a small population of talent, meaning that engineers with niche skill sets can command high salaries.

Traditional roles

In addition to the growing industries mentioned, there’s still a slew of traditional engineering roles that need filling across the country:

  • Project engineers
  • Manufacturing engineers 
  • Production engineers
  • Robotics engineers

The bottom line, and the message that needs to be communicated to young people, is that engineering is a broad and incredibly diverse field; one where talented individuals can thrive, adapt and pursue an incredibly rewarding career. 

What can be done to bring more engineers into the industry?

Efforts to improve diversity in engineering have proved successful, but more progress needs to be made in order to bolster the talent pool in the UK, addressing the underrepresentation of women and people of colour in the industry and providing opportunities for communities who have historically not had ready access to the requisite training.

There also needs to be a revitalisation of the engineering image in society, which requires a concerted effort to educate young people about the exciting careers that the industry offers. 

Not only this, but there are thriving populations of engineers in countries like India, Turkey and Brazil; engineers who would prove incredibly valuable in revitalising the UK’s engineering industries. 

Specialist engineering recruitment with Quantum 

At Quantum SAS, we work tirelessly with our international clients in order to find the ideal talent for their needs. We have an extensive global network of connections, meaning that we have access to large pools of engineers with wide-ranging expertise.

If you’d like to find out more, get in touch with our specialist consultants today. We’re on hand to answer any questions you may have.