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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)

  • No, currently I and many others know of many suitably qualified engineers who are unemployed, and some for long periods.

    What skills gap? my main issue is where are these alleged jobs and with so many unemployed engineers, no skills gap.

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  • A lot of big Engineering companies in the UK have lost a lot of very experienced people over the last 15 years or more. We now are struggling to find enough people with the hands on experience to keep plants running at reliable levels. I have seen an influx in Engineers who have come from University with very little relevant hands on experience. This was fine when you had enough people around you who knew the job inside out and were prepared to help you.If you have the right team around you they can help carry you through until you learn your job. A lot of these bright young Engineers though are being put in charge of jobs and people without the necessary knowledge & support to succeed at a high level. They are expected to work miracles with poor staff & little investment. These young Engineers should have been put on the shop floor with experienced people for a few years then put with Experienced Engineers so they could be taught all they need to know before taking on all the pressure and responsibility an Engineer has to put up with. We have let these young people down and paying the price through people job hopping to get away from one mess to another. Companies knew years ago about the up and coming shortages of skilled personnel but some failed to act early enough. Its one thing having the will , its another thing having the skill. You need both i think and you cant train someone up overnight. But give it a few years and these inexperienced Engineers will become experienced. Just hope they stay in the same jobs long enough to reap the reward of their struggles. Good luck and stay safe.

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  • No, the problem is not that there are not enough British Engineers in the world, the problem is that there are not enough in the UK. The principle reason for this is that the UK doesn't pay well enough and is trying to suppress wages. Instead of seeking the bottom of the world engineering salary ranges , and delivering second rate products, the UK should try being globally competitive for the best British talent , and building high standard products in the UK. It's a sad fact but there are thousands of British engineers working in emerging economies helping them to compete with the U.K., and all of those Engineers are being paid a lot more than they would in the UK.

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  • Being at the hard end of job hunting all employers want ready made people to fill roles. There is no willingness to train people who may given some time and effort more than suitable to fill the vacant roles.

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  • Education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics needs to be strengthened in the U.S. . Our colleges and universities are not graduating enough students with strong science degrees, computer science or otherwise. Graduates with the right kinds of backgrounds for data scientist – computer science, statistics, machine learning – are coming out of the universities, but they are not coming out in sufficient numbers. As a result, firms are struggling to hire full-time or contract staff for IT and engineering positions. In working with IT staffing agencies, I know it's important to know their true professional goals. Help them achieve their growth goals and help them establish a career growth path.
    Than Nguyen

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  • There is no skills gap in engineering. There is a misunderstanding in HR. HR needs to understand that engineers can do anything. An engineer trained in metals and machines can work with metals and machines, no matter how they look like and what brand they are. Electrical and electronics engineers can work with anything electronic.
    And if there are gaps, as always, then engineers can read, study and ask colleagues.
    And if there are still gaps, companies should start cooperating with universities, and finance research papers for students.

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  • The skills shortage is in management, not engineering.

    With proper management and human resources development, there would be no skills gap.

    So, replace the management with people who can coach their staff.

    If the managers take care of their engineers, the engineers will take care of the customers, and the customers will support the company.
    The moment you start making the engineers working for the managers, you lost.

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  • Martyn Davis is right. Have you ever tried selling technical training in this country? Even the best companies have been very reluctant to spend any money at all. Sure they are coming on board now but it is 30 years since we decided training was too expensive and a luxury. I get the impression they are only coming on board now because of the positive publicity it gets them!
    You also need prosperous companies capable of employing people to be the providers and many have disappeared. The government could encourage or force companies to make training compulsory and donate the unemployed benefits saved to the training schemes.

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  • This article links with the John Elliot article currently running. Elliot wants more manufactured goods that are being bought in the UK to carry a Made In Britain label. But how many workers who will work in making those goods have the same label on them?

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  • I finished my apprenticeship in machine tool building over 50 years ago. I still do consultancy work for 2 German companies.
    My apprentice was completely in house and with an American company. The company had about 100 apprentices.
    Work and training was based on a piecework system, which gave that the training officer a real-time analysis of competence of each apprentice.
    Day release to college was the norm, as was night school, plus a working week was 44 hours, with Saturday morning work towards the end of my apprenticeship.
    Training included fixture design, machine design, service work and time-study.
    The main point I want to make is this was done without a layer of facilitating companies pushing apprenticeships and I think more of the Government money should be going direct into companies.
    I have watched our country allow motorcycles, cars and machine tool building to slip away into history and NOW is the time to revive it. In addition we need to revive a good work ethic.
    I was at he Skills Show in Birmingham, 16 Nov, on the Princes Trust stand and saw plenty of eager school children keen enough to pick-up the engineering and manufacturing.

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