Remote working: engineering’s new employment landscape

Engineering businesses must navigate the challenges of remote working to retain staff amidst a worsening talent shortage, says Sally Hunter, managing director of advanced manufacturing and engineering at Cielo.


The emergency shift into widespread remote working caused by coronavirus lockdowns has led to a seismic readjustment for businesses and talent acquisition leaders. Most employees have made it clear that they want the arrangement to continue, causing friction with employers. While many engineering jobs cannot be performed remotely, it is worthwhile finding ways in which those remaining employees can be shifted to remote working, while also injecting more flexibility into in-person roles.

Lower remote working rate, lower retention rate

We analysed LinkedIn data for our recent Benefits of Remote Working on Talent Acquisition report, looking at regional and cross-sector differences in employment trends and adoption. Our research investigated the percentage of engineering vacancies advertised as “remote” by country and sector. We also looked at the percentage of engineers who had changed job in the last 90 days (to mid-May 2022) by country.

The research revealed that many of the countries offering less remote working roles have the highest levels of workers changing jobs. This trend is hallmarked by the UK, Germany, Netherlands and Australia, which all have an annualised job change run rate of some 20 per cent. Engineers are looking for roles that offer remote work, and many are willing to leave the sector altogether to find those greener pastures.

A lack of remote working is clearly affecting retention in the sector. Companies that are offering more fully-remote roles, as well as companies implementing remote aspects to current non-remote roles, are benefitting from a larger talent pool.

The lack of companies offering remote working is likely also having a negative effect on retention in the engineering sector as a whole. So, there is also a sector-wide impetus to accelerate digitalisation in order to make it as easy as possible to implement more remote working into the engineering sector.

The importance of offering flexibility

The Littler 2021 European Employer Survey found that over 50 per cent of employers believe their employees prefer hybrid or remote work to a greater extent than they offer it. Employees want more flexibility, while many employers know what they’re doing isn’t enough.

Flexible work practices are particularly important for younger workers like Gen Z, who now make up a significant, skilled and mobile demographic of the professional engineering population. In fact, flexible working is a crucial prerequisite for this growing, indispensable talent.


Research by Kantar found that 86 per cent of Generation Z and 85 per cent of millennials said that flexible home working policies are one of the most important offers they consider when deciding whether to accept a job, compared to just 66 per cent of boomers. Simply put, the younger workforce prefers remote work and will take jobs that allow it over those that don’t.

Most younger workers simply won’t consider a role without lots of flexibility and autonomy. So, engineering companies need to double down on their existing early talent programmes to get access to the right skills and capabilities.

Offering remote work on a distance basis also gives the added benefit of recruiting from a far wider, far greater, geographical and diverse pool of candidates. Forward thinking companies are realising that visas are not needed for remote working across borders, with the physical barrier of employing EU nationals removed by fully remote work models.

Lingering concerns

Obviously, there are obstacles to negotiate when introducing remote and hybrid working, both legal and logistical. There are also questions about how to provide effective remote training and development and how to ensure that skills and insight continue to flow through colleague-to-colleague-osmosis when they rarely, if ever, meet. Yet, we are researching and investigating novel technologies with our clients, such as virtual reality (VR) and the metaverse, that may help reintroduce these more personal interactions.

Another recurring concern we see is how to recreate the sense of ‘community’ in remote working teams. Activities like anchor days – bringing everyone together once a month or so - pose a solution. For these to be successful, companies need to reinvest the savings made from introducing more remote work back into internal event management. Successful organisations now even have dedicated internal events management teams to make these in-person meetings more meaningful.

The best performing engineering businesses are those adapting quickly and positively to home working demands. The approach gives competitive advantage over their slower, reluctant rivals. For roles which cannot be performed remotely, companies need to look to means of promoting that flexibility elsewhere – such as introducing more flexible working hours or by implementing more remote aspects to that role. But always keep in mind your office-value-proposition – don’t forget to think about the story and reimagine the proposition for roles that are 100 per cent in-person.

Regressive, inflexible rules – like pay cuts for distance workers or prescriptive demands for workplace attendance – will simply cause further damage to an already suffering employment ecosystem in the engineering sector.


Sally Hunter, managing director of advanced manufacturing and engineering at Cielo