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The week ahead: should immigration fill the skills gap?

From engaging with young people to improving gender diversity there are many measures that the engineering industry is taking to address its much-publicised skills problem.

But whilst  few would disagree that industry needs to look to the future, the skills shortage is already starting to bite in many sectors, and many believe that a more immediate solution is also required.

This Thursday, the Royal Academy of Engineering is hosting a conference that will examine what’s arguably one of the more controversial solutions to this pressing problem: importing skills from overseas.

The event - The brain gain: should we be importing top quality STEM skills from Abroad? - will bring together representatives from industry, professional bodies, education, academia, and think tanks to discuss whether the increasing need for high quality skills in STEM sectors should be met by importing skills from abroad into the UK.

The debate coincides with the findings of a survey undertaken by Festo Training and Consulting that also throws light on industry’s skills worries.

Three quarters of respondents to the firm’s 2013 People and Productivity Survey, said that their business was suffering from a skills shortage, and that middle managers are increasingly having to step in to address technical problems.

Festo claims that the report indicates a growing requirement for appropriate on-the-job training and development.  ‘The pressure is on for companies to develop their existing talent pipeline, because the majority of employees within engineering and manufacturing are between the ages of 40 and 50,’ said a company spokesperson. ‘As the capable workforce narrows, it will be this age group, typically in middle management, who will bear the most stress.’

Elsewhere this week, the awards season is now well and truly underway. On Tuesday night , ahead of its annual NI Days UK user conference, National Instruments will announce the winners of its Graphical System Design achievement awards, while on Wednesday the IET’s Innovation Awards will celebrate inspiring examples of engineering from across all of the key sectors. We’d like to wish the best of luck to all of those who have made the shortlists for these prestigious events.


Readers' comments (48)

  • To start with we could employ some of the graduate Engineers that are at present collecting Benefit. This applies to actual graduate engineers NOT those with Art degrees!!!!! And yes there are quite a few awaiting the call. Check with the Job centers & McDonalds for the statistics.

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  • I personally love how the British lay person feels that immigrants are coming over here to take British jobs and that the UK should leave the EU. When in reality immigration is the only way Britain can fill the skills shortage in the a short space of time.
    STEM education is all well and good, but it is likely to be 20+ years before a real return from such an investment can be realised.

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  • NO! An emphatic NO!

    We should be investing in our own, home-grown talent. For too long successive administrations have played around with our education system, causing reduced standards and demoralised teachers and lecturers.

    Organise it properly, put university education and vocational apprenticeships at the top of the agenda, and stop politicians fiddling about with the system - see Michael Gove as a prime example.

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  • Simple supply and demand, pay a better wage and you will attract more people.

    Why would a young person want to become an engineer when other careers other better salaries and career prospects.

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  • NO! Our country is overcrowded already, and we have a huge number of unemployed youngsters who could fill the gap, with a little bit of support and encouragement. For goodness sake, look at home first!

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  • For our company, recruiting from abroad has become essential. Of the junior engineers recruited in the last few years, two were French, four Italian, one Malaysian, one Indian, and only two were Brits. Also, the best quality recruits were from the Continent.

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  • Here are the obvious questions to those firms that say they must hire from abroad because they can't find suitably skilled engineers in the UK: Are you training apprentices/graduates so that you don't have this problem in the future? Or is the problem that junior foreign candidates are better educated and British ones insufficiently so? Would you just rather we had a completely open international labour market so you can pick the best from around the world without having to worry about employing UK engineers?

  • Widespread investment in apprenticeship schemes in this country is the answer to these problems and encouraging and forcing firms to invest in apprenticeship training as a natural basis for renewing their employees.

    Too much emphasis has been placed in recent years on employing eastern Europeans in the age bracket 27-37 years old.

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  • British companies suffer from (a) an unwillingness to train staff, and (b) an over-reliance on 3rd party recruitment. There are plenty of candidates, but companies fantasise that they will be able to find someone that matches their requirements in all ways without the need develop staff. The majority of recruitment agencies do not understand employers' requirements, but nor do they take the time to understand the candidates. This near-random process does not satisfy candidates or employers.

    Bringing in foreign workers with lower pay expectations does nothing to solve the structural problem of a recruitment market that doesn't work.

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  • We have the same issue here in the United States but it is all propaganda, all about replacing American workers with cheap foreign labor. I suspect those in the UK has similar issues.

    AND here's the mantra:

    "The goal is NOT to Find an American worker!"

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  • I agree with Paul Whitney, I am in that situation right now.

    Few employers are willing to take on graduates, many adverts are seeking for a "graduate" or "entry" engineer, then go on to demand a minimum of 2 years of relevant experience. Recruitment processes are known to drag on for months and months with requirements repeatedly being revised down.

    Meanwhile many students see graduate schemes as the only option, these often lead to good jobs, but they mean a year or more spent in limbo being shuffled around multiple departments all struggling to find work to keep them busy with. Sometimes graduates on such schemes are eventually shoehorned into roles less relevant to their degree, particularly for students specialised in more niche areas.

    Employers need to be more willing to recruit directly from universities and to offer a bespoke training process for every new employee. They should not be complaining about the lack of skills when they have the means to create people with the exact skills they are demanding.

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