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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)

  • Konrad, the government need to build schemes to connect industry and education in the UK. The market should be left to be free as it is. There may well be restrictions to non-EU members, but EU members can move freely. Despite this engineering in the UK is not being flooded with foreign labour because it is far more attractive elsewhere. I'm not overly concerned about labour trying to come here, they will soon realise the same reasons why people try to escape from engineering in the UK. They are also very restricted on what/where they can work because of clearances which can not be changed understandably. This is about engineering in the UK rising up and competing as it once did to be the best. They need the best to do this job, not the cheapest.

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  • Engineer: No, they need to have a choice. Nobody knows better what a company needs that its management. There is no role of the government here. There are countries which produce better engineering force, but are they really better off? The government needs to understand the balance between quality and quantity, free market and regulations, paid education and subsidised universities and so on. Which they fail big time. There's nothing wrong in the competition, but look what is happening around the high speed railway: it would increase competition on the labour market (ability to commute farther to a better job), so it is the role of the government to support it, but what are they doing? Everything not to make it happen...

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  • Clearly it won't fill the skills gap as we would be flooded with immigrant engineers from other countries by now. Germany etc. all have opportunities for them to come to the UK and yet (and unsurprisingly) they haven't. If the UK can't keep its own talent then how can it expect to attract those from abroad.

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  • It sounds to me simply as if the clearances need to be harmonised with the rest of the world.

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  • Clearances are strict as they are security driven. Most engineering firms in the UK have some involvement with this so it creates an issue for foreign engineers working in the UK anyway.

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  • Agreeing with a previous comment: employers in the UK seek candidates who exactly fit detailed criteria for previous experience, rather than taking someone on who has the best basic skills but maybe not in the same, very specific, field. I have seen job ads run for a year looking for someone who is doing exactly the same job somewhere else. Not only are employers picking people for possibly the wrong reasons, but employees find it very hard to change their specialism. With this attitude to training employers will look elsewhere...

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  • Immigration is the easiest and immediate solution for skill shortage. Need to attract more talents to have more and independent innovative ideas for a sustainable growth.

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  • the shortage of skill means many issues:
    1. One positive point. The economy sectors which need skills are doing well.
    Better than somewhere else, where is not too many engineers employed.
    2. The business did not, and is still not investing in the skills.
    True to some extent.
    3. Governments were not supporting shaping the attitudes,
    caring more for those lazy on benefits instead.
    4. Quick shift in global economy, skills competition and increase in mobility.
    The island'ish mentality did not adapt quick enough.
    5. Education with low standards. Teachers from bottom 20, but even
    best of them not allowed by education departments to raise levels.

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