Data obtained from the Home Office under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that the number of work permits issued to foreign engineering professionals jumped from 5,620 in 2021 to 9,617 in 2022, the highest level in five years.
The category which saw the largest percentage increase was civil engineers, where the number of work permits issued nearly doubled between 2021 and 2022, from 804 to 1,565.
Integro Accounting attributed this surge to the Brexit transition period ending on January 1, 2021, which brought an end to freedom of movement between the UK and EU, and meant that EU citizens became subject to the same points-based immigration system as non-EU workers.
Long-term skills shortages in the engineering sector have been worsened by a convergence of factors in recent years – Brexit, the pandemic and the new off-payroll working rules have all prompted an exodus of engineering talent from the UK labour market, according to Integro.
Integro Accounting added that that universities are increasingly likely to restrict UK students’ access to STEM courses due to funding constraints. Tuition fees for home students have been frozen at £9,250 a year since 2017, increasing the pressure on universities to make up the funding shortfall by allocating more places to international students who pay higher fees.
In a statement, Christian Hickmott, MD of Integro Accounting, said: “The UK’s chronic underproduction of engineering talent is making us increasingly reliant on overseas engineers to plug the skills gap.
“Megaprojects such as Hinkley Point C and HS2 have created recruitment headaches for main contractors. The situation is particularly challenging in nuclear because of the renaissance underway in the sector following several decades of decline, leaving the UK increasingly reliant on French expertise.”
According to data from National Statistics, 9.6 per cent per cent of engineering employees were female in 2018, rising to 12.9 per cent in 2022. 20.1 per cent per cent of tech sector employees were found to be female.
Hickmott added: “While the engineering sector has made great strides in increasing female representation in recent years, it still lags the tech sector.
“As the engineering workforce ages, the need to engage younger people, particularly females, in STEM subjects becomes increasingly pressing if project delays and cost overruns are to be minimised.”