Skills gap widens for engineering

Manufacturing employers are enduring the highest levels of skill shortages in 10 years, according to government figures. One in five manufacturing firms reported having vacancies they found hard to fill in 1998, up from 15% in 1997. More than 30% of employers said they were experiencing above-average recruitment costs because of the shortage of suitable […]

Manufacturing employers are enduring the highest levels of skill shortages in 10 years, according to government figures.

One in five manufacturing firms reported having vacancies they found hard to fill in 1998, up from 15% in 1997.

More than 30% of employers said they were experiencing above-average recruitment costs because of the shortage of suitable staff.

Two-fifths also reported increased running costs due to greater use of overtime, temporary staff and sub-contracting to fill the gaps.

The findings are part of an annual report by the Skills and Enterprise Network Labour Market, part of the Department for Education and Employment. It questioned 4,000 organisations across all sectors of the economy.

Larger firms are worst affected by skills gaps, with 33% of employers with more than 500 staff experiencing problems, compared to one in five with less than 50 employees. The east Midlands, north east, London and the south west were the hardest hit areas.

David Fowler, personnel director of electronics giant Panasonic, said skill shortages had been worsening for five years and were seriously damaging UK competitiveness.

‘There is no simple panacea to solve this,’ said Fowler. ‘What annoys me is that the education system and the Government think there is an easy solution and that if they throw enough money at it electrical engineers will just come out the other side.’

Fowler echoed the findings that potential recruits, especially 16- to 24-year-olds, most commonly lacked communication skills.

He added that Panasonic has had to look to the Czech Republic and other east European countries to find new employees. The company uses the internet to find applicants from anywhere in the world.

Panasonic also had to step up training of lower-skilled technicians up to engineer level to compensate for the recruitment problems.

‘What we have to do is upgrade and train staff at the level below engineer. We would do that anyway, but we are having to accelerate it and skill them up quicker. The thing is it takes longer and is more expensive than it otherwise would be.’

John Robinson writes for Personnel Today magazine