More foreign workers bring skills to the UK engineering job market

recruitment: The lack of skilled engineers in some sectors means more opportunities for workers from overseas

Engineers from continental Europe could be the solution to the much-publicised skills shortage afflicting the UK’s engineering job market, according to recruitment consultants.

Colin Woolford, resourcing manager at London recruitment consultant Beachwood, says today’s engineering job market is one where language skills are increasingly necessary, and where engineers from other EU countries are in a position to take some of the best technical jobs on offer in the UK.

Woolford said that engineers from Sweden, Germany and Italy are coming to the UK with excellent English skills, plus the addition of their own mother tongue, and this means they have a very real edge on their British-born colleagues.

‘Companies doing business in foreign markets always prefer to have employees who can conduct business in their customers’ own language,’ Woolford said.

The importance of languages to engineering can now be seen in the huge growth of engineering degrees that have languages as a module. French and German are the main two languages taken up by students.

The skills gap has prompted employers to search for suitably qualified staff as far afield as China and Nigeria, according to recent reports. More often, though, Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans have been favourites among non-EU countries, because of their universities excellent international reputations and since English is their first language.

Some of these globe-trotting engineers are relatively young, and it is not uncommon forAustralian engineering graduates straight out of university to come to the UK to work. While these foreign workers require work visas, creating an administrative burden for their employers here, they may have particular skills not as readily available in the EU job market.

Software engineers hired from the Indian sub-continent have been making the headlines as UK companies face a growing shortage in this area of expertise.

But surveys have shown skills bottlenecks in a growing number of areas. According to Woolford, one area that is starting to suffer from such a bottleneck in engineering is the defence sector.

‘Engineers are having to ask themselves: why bother to work as an electronics engineer on defence contracts when I can earn more in the consumer sector where mobile phones and broadband networks are booming?’