Skills fears grow in a quietly confident industry

Editor

According to a report out today UK engineers are feeling more upbeat and confident about both their own and industry’s prospects than they have for ages. Are you one of them?

UK engineers are feeling upbeat and confident about both their own and industry’s prospects according to a report out today.

The Matchtech Confidence index – an annual barometer of the UK engineering community’s satisfaction levels – draws on responses from over 3,500 engineers to paint a picture of a sector that’s cautiously optimistic about the months ahead and that seems to be getting to grips with long-running concerns over salaries, skills, and poor public perceptions.

Published by engineering recruitment specialist Matchtech, the report highlights growing confidence in UK industry’s recovery, with over 60% of respondents saying that they expect their employer to grow in the next 12 months.

Meanwhile, more than half of those surveyed say they have received salary increases in the past 12 months, a somewhat surprising figure that contrasts with the wage stagnation seen in many other areas of the economy.

Gratifyingly, the research also highlights a growing feeling that wider public perceptions of engineering are changing for the better, with almost half of those surveyed pointing to high profile infrastructure projects – such as Crossrail – as playing a key role in helping to alter public perceptions.

However, against this backdrop of optimism, concerns over engineering skills appear to growing. Indeed 95 % of those surveyed said they believe there is a current skills shortage and cited the UK’s ageing workforce and lack of STEM students as the biggest challenges facing industry.

The need to address these challenges has dominated industry’s discourse for a number of years now. And as The Engineer has frequently reported, despite plenty of good intentions, the vast slew of initiatives aimed at narrowing the skills gap has had a fairly limited impact.

However, at an industry roundtable debate held to mark the launch of this year’s confidence index report, there was a reassuringly refined understanding of the nature of the problem and how it might be solved.

One key area of agreement was that general calls for more engineers, such as Ed Miliband’s pledge this week to train up 400,000 new engineers by 2020, aren’t particularly helpful. To meet its longer term demands industry must engage with younger children as well as the parent and teachers that will help encourage them to study STEM subjects. In the meantime, the panel suggested that introducing more flexible retirement ages could be a good solution to the shorter-term skills problem.

Another issue widely reported by The Engineer is the relative difficultly UK SMEs – the uncelebrated backbone of the engineering economy – have recruiting. And here again, there is potentially promising news, with many on the panel pointing to a growing realisation across industry that SMEs actually offer some of the most exciting opportunities.

As always, we welcome your thoughts and suggestions on this emotive topic.