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UK 'faces 36,800 shortfall in qualified engineers by 2050'

Britain faces a shortfall of 66,800 construction workers and 36,800 qualified engineers by 2050 due to skills shortages, an ageing workforce and restrictive migration policy, according to Randstad CPE.

Recruitment specialist Randstad CPE said the UK workforce as a whole will have a deficit of 3.1 million by 2050, a figure that represents nine per cent of the required workforce.

Using employment rates from the most recent European population analysis from Eurostat — the statistical office of the European Union — as a measure of demand, Randstad analysed the projected changes in UK population and working age rate for 2050 to establish the gap between employment demand and workforce supply.

The analysis showed that with a population of 74.5 million, in 2050 the UK will require a workforce of 35.4 million to meet demand. However, with a pool of 45.1 million people (60.5 per cent of the population) forecast to be eligible to work in 2050, even if the employment rate matches pre-downturn levels of 71.6 per cent, an ageing population will leave the UK with only 32.3 million people in employment — 3.1 million short of the 35.4 million required to meet demand.

Randstad also forecast the workforce shortfall across some key professions. Qualified engineers represent 1.2 per cent of the UK workforce while construction staff represent two per cent, assuming this proportion remains constant, by 2050, the UK will have a deficit of 36,800 engineers and 66,800 construction workers.

The education sector will be the worst affected with a projected shortfall of 128,000 teachers.

In a statement, Owen Goodhead, managing director of Randstad CPE, said: ‘Our projections for the size of the engineering workforce are conservative, yet they paint a very grim picture for the UK’s economic prospects. Unless we can plug the employment gap, the engineering and construction sectors will be unable to perform efficiently and this will have serious consequences for the prosperity of the country.’

Migration is said to be one of the key drivers behind the skills shortage in the engineering and construction sectors.

Since 2007, overall work-related migration from the UK has risen 16 per cent while work-related immigration has fallen 24 per cent over the same period (see chart below). The combination of poor economic performance and changes to immigration policy have made the UK a less attractive place to work among the world’s most talented professionals and trades people.  

However, the UK engineering and construction sectors have also had to deal with significant demand for talent from overseas. Huge infrastructure projects in preparation for the World Cup and Olympics in Brazil are providing a huge draw for international talent, as is demand in locations such as Nigeria for its oil industry, Australia for mining and New Zealand for earthquake reconstruction.

An ageing workforce is also a threat to the future of the engineering sector with the industry facing huge levels of retirement over the coming decades. This presents a particular problem for the large-scale energy projects planned in UK over the coming years. EDF plans to invest £20bn in low-carbon nuclear generation over next 15 years, however, 70 per cent of current nuclear workforce will be retired by 2025.


Readers' comments (23)

  • If this statement by MD of Randstad is correct, why don't they, and others, employ older and/or retired engineers to make up the short fall? Because from my experience Randstad certainly don't!

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  • The country has only itself to blame after all neither the country in the form of the Government or the companies appear to do strategy any longer.

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  • This coalition government has not done anything to encourage the best students into engineering. In fact by increasing university fees by 200% it has probably discouraged many young people from tertiary education. The skills gap can only be made worse by their actions.

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  • It's a worldwide problem and doesn't affect just the UK. Engineering simply isn't a glamorous job to attract enough youth in to it, globally. This skill gap isn't really news for people working in the field. It's just gotten to a critical point and will get worse. Good luck to the countries at saving their production bases.

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  • A shortage in skilled workers.

    I'm afraid that the UK employers only have themselves to blame.

    Currently we have tens of thousands of engineers of all grades being put out of work.

    Yes there are jobs out there, but employers want pre made, pre qualified people to work for them.

    Why aren't companies taking on poeple of a lesser skilled base and training them up and moulding them into the type of employee they are looking for to be employed by them in the future.

    Due to it being an employers market I have found now on more than one occasion that the employer are using the unemployed in some sort of a game and in fact insulting their potential to be a faithful employee by offering them a full time contract then letting them 'go' before a three month trial period is up so the employer does not have to pay pension payments.

    I myself am currently out of work and am semi qualified for the career that I wish to seek, yet all I get is rejections as employers fail to see the potential in the UK workforce.

    We need less immigration and more employers and the government to get the UK workforce back into work and not being put out of work.

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  • I would add that recruitment companies are part of the cause of any perceived shortage - they are not part of the solution.

    The workforce may be ageing but the retirement age is rising and pensions are getting much smaller as final salary schemes are replaced by private pensions. People will have to retire later.

    There is an abundance of talented engineers in this country, but most companies and recruitment agencies are too thick to spot them. It takes talent to spot talent - sadly most of the dim wits in recruitment are only capable of matching basic parameters.

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  • Engineering is also not attractive to youth due to its difficulty and relatively low pay, in the UK anyway. Tube drivers get paid more than chief engineers. Hopefully market forces will dictate through supply and demand a change to this. Until then, those with talent will continue to find better deals internationally.

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  • In view of the recent discussions in this column trying to consider who should be called an Engineer I find the hand-wringing concerning the shortfall of engineers to be somewhat amusing. There is no short of paper qualification waving Engineers (ex new universities) with no practical experience and little chance of acquiring same, the shortfall is with people with ''engineer's thumbs''and those with practical production engineering knowledge. But nobody wants to employ this fast disappearing resource...why?

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  • Employers will at last have to offer sensible salaries. Only problem is that I will be retired.

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  • With productivity tools being used we do not need so many engineers. So I would dispute the future projected figures.
    Currently thee is a surplus of people to fit the jobs available; perhaps 6 jobs for structural engineers in the magazine for a population of 25,000. Perhaps triple this for even more in the civil engineering field.
    Being a conspiracist, if agencies say there is a shortage they can hike their fees, but probably not those of who they act as agent for.
    Also the way jobs are bid leads to a shortage of cash to train graduates; smaller companies do poach bigger companies staff since they tend to charge clients more for their work, but at the same time big companies use India as a back office and make bigger profits for shareholders. Offshoring engineering jobs is obnoxious, but to compete internationally, I guess there is no alternative. Problem; all the skills go abroad. So local companies are effectively cutting their own future 10 years down the line.
    It is a difficult situation until Indian salaries are on a par with Europe. Then what happens?

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  • If someone, govt maybe, put a little cash into researching which degree courses add value to UK plc and which clearly do not, then it is an easy solution. Charge full rate for non value-add degree courses and provide the value-add courses free. Along with some others, Science and Engineering based courses would become more popular.

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  • Re: Anonymous, 27 Jan
    At my son's graduation I asked one of his professors why there were such a high proportion of overseas students - nearly 100% on some courses. He said it was because engineering is difficult - people had to work at it.
    My response; it is also hard work to be a successful musician, footballer or actor, so needing hard work is not an excuse.
    Overseas people recognise the importance and opportunities than an engineering career can bring. Why not here?
    I put it down to lack of respect for engineering professionals (which should be on a par with doctors or lawyers) and too many engineers not enthusing about the good bits of their jobs, only grumbling about the bad bits!
    My solutions? 1. Encourage engineers going into non-engineering jobs to be positive about the good foundation engineering has given them for their diverse career, and 2. Volunteer to go into local schools (both primary and secondary) to explain and share the joys, excitement and satisfaction of engineering.

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  • Just to continue a previous debate, if there was more status to being an 'Engineer', there is a good chance we would get more into the profession.

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  • @Stephen Bunch

    I totally agree.

    Skilled technicians, fit to run specific machinery and perform particular tasks rather than 'desk jockey' engineers. Production is critical, not innovation.

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  • Once again we seem to have yet everyone looking to the government with “Do something about it” disorder.
    When will people, industry and society wake up the fact that the country is in deep trouble. Yes you can blame who you like, history this or that political party but in the end we need to stand on our own feet and pull ourselves out of it not talk about it or analyse it. Industry has itself to blame if you don’t train people where do they come from? What’s the average spend of a company on “its” training? If you’re reading this what is your industries/company budget? At what upper age limit do you/they set on interviewees for advertised positions? Try getting work as a skilled person when you’re over fifty? Need more?
    Industry itself is to blame for a shortage of skilled personnel; the lack of investment has been going on for years. Gradually the skills pool has aged and has not been replenished, add to that ageism and here we are. So please stop looking for other people or the government to blame look at you, what can you do?
    There is a wealth of skilled labour out there that if not able to physically do the things they once did, were made redundant or retired but are still of value. Those people may have taught you, even built the industry you’re working in? Use them they are of immense value slowly fading away………………

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  • @ JB and RE.
    At least we three can see the problem!
    Mucking about with multi axis CNC in a University will not make versatile engineers. The majority of' Engineers' are in fact fitters,planners and designers who never enter the board room. Too many in the engineering fields think they should be Managers...therein lies one of the problems.Very similar to Nursing in the NHS . IMHO

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  • I agree with a lot of comments on here, there needs to be a lot done both on the side of the government and companies themselves. In the UK as far as I have seen, senior managers are short sighted and ignorant and have little engineering orientation about them (regardless of the fact some used to be one) salaries are relatively low, greed is rife and development is avoided. Add to this the poor ability of the government in all areas and its a pretty dull situation. So in two weeks Im off to NZ with a much larger salary (at a relatively low level position) with a company that tore my hand off mainly for being an English engineer. Don't see that sort of enthusiasm here. See you when the country is sorted.

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  • by JB on 29th Jan 2013 at 6.05 - "Production is critical, not innovation”.

    Fortunately, not everyone shares this view. Sadly, too many did in the past so that now we have no shipbuilding industry. Others have/will go the same way unless they invent and innovate.

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  • @ John Douglas

    May the thousands of apprentices entering the trade innovate all they want. I'm all for it.

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  • oops. An ageing population, brain drain and increasing demand are linked. Structural and legislative changes are required to effect a differentiated strategy for national success.

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  • I am a Naval Architect with Master's Degree.
    Came to UK from another European country to marry and live here. I cannot find a job because I do not have required experience. But I do have extensive knowledge that I do believe it could be useful to some employer.

    My suggestion: Make apprenticeships for adults.
    I would accept to work 3 years for minimum salary just to get that experience. And I think I am not the only one.

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  • The shortage is almost never one of fresh graduates. It is almost always of mid-career, experienced Engineers, who have dropped out of the profession for one reason or another. Every recession I have exprienced [three or four] has seen a large part of that generation's Engineers go abroad or into a different area of work, most never to return. It will be the same this time. My career is [was] in construction, always first into and last out of a recession. Right now I meet graduates who can't get a job with employers who are looking for Engineers. There is a mismatch between some employers' willingness to take the hit on training and development of young engineers and their complaint about not being able to fill jobs. And, 'twas ever thus.

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  • This is an issue around the world. But really unlike Australia and Canada the UK has failed to regulate and protect the profession. Instead UK groups highly skilled graduates with the washing machine engineers. Small wonder why many of them migrate to countries that pay double the salaries and provide a professional environment that can inspire a younger generation, not dissuade it

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