Skills shortage means engineering companies must think out of the box


Britain’s engineering companies have to be prepared to think differently if they are planning large-scale recruitment, says Bryan Flood of recruitment consultancy NES Global Talent

It’s a tribute to the transformation of Jaguar Land Rover that recent news of its plans to create more than 5,000 new jobs, including more than 1,000 software and electronic engineers, came as no surprise to those in the know.

The F-type Jaguar has put British mass-market performance cars alongside its German and Japanese competitors

It is a company that not only survived the economic downturn but is now the largest automotive manufacturer in Britain, accounting for more than 30% of all domestic car production last year.

Given its recruitment plans it now sounds like a business preparing to make a serious investment in either electric/hybrid-powered cars or autonomous vehicles. This will chime well with the Government’s ambitions for Britain to be a world leader in these fields, backed by a £600m fund for ultra-low emission vehicles and a new Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.

For a country with a large shortage of skilled engineers which has just begun Brexit negotiations with the EU, this is a very well-timed vote of confidence in the sector.

The task to recruit more than 1,000 electronic and software engineers is made more difficult by the size of the skills gap in the UK.

Research by Engineering UK has found an additional 1.8m engineers and technically qualified people will be needed in the country by 2025 and conservatively estimates that there is a 20,000 annual shortfall in the number of engineering graduates in Britain.

To businesses it is impossible to overstate the importance of hiring the right people.

As Lawrence Bossidy, former chief operating officer of General Electric Credit Corporation, now GE Capital, said: “Nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day you bet on people, not on strategies.”

With British businesses potentially set to fish from an even smaller pool of talent, it has never been more important for businesses to ensure they attract the best engineers.

So how do they do that?

Branding and communication have a strong role to play. If you can communicate a compelling vision of your business, you stand a better chance of hiring the right people. In that sense, recruitment is similar to marketing. Establishing a meaningful brand does not just help you win customers, it helps you win people who will be passionate about working for you.

As a manufacturer that has been able to successfully design, engineer and mass-produce a prestige car, and in doing so put a British marque alongside the world-class German and Japanese brands, JLR has a head-start on many employers .

However, businesses without a well-known brand can still recruit exceptional talent if they look hard enough in the right places.

Businesses have two main options to consider to widen their talent pool:

  1. Look outside their existing industry to train up workers with transferable skills: reach out to complementary industries in which engineers for the automotive sector could be recruited from. Both the rail and aerospace sectors are a good source of electronic engineers who have a good understanding of the challenges of transport. Former military engineers can also be a good fit.
  2. Look outside their own country to bring in talented workers from abroad. World-class businesses need to scour the world to find the best workers.

Regardless of where you look for candidates, businesses need to agree on the messages they would like to communicate about the business, taking into account the roles they are looking to fill, before launching the recruitment campaign.

Recruiting too many candidates too fast makes on-boarding difficult and can weaken an organisation’s culture if not handled well.

Creating a schedule of phased recruitment helps a business to both maximise employee engagement and retention, as well as reduce costs.

Businesses launching large new projects or brands should look to bring in the first phase of new staff as soon as possible to get them involved in the creation of the project.

While it makes sense to prioritise recruiting for the most senior positions as soon as possible, it can be useful to bring in a select number of employees from each level of seniority to ensure the new project works from both an operational and strategic perspective.

Many of the initial roles in a new project can often be internal transfers, made up of tried and tested members of staff. However, it makes sense to bring in workers from outside early on in if a business really wants to push the envelope and challenge accepted norms.

Recruiting outside the business early on also improves the buy-in and engagement of new workers turning them into ambassadors for the changes which occur and, most importantly, enabling them to add value to the project sooner.

The recruitment of so many new high-quality workers is almost impossible for businesses to do without calling on external recruitment support.

When handling large-scale recruitment there can be a temptation to cut costs and percentages as much as possible. This can often be a false economy. In a world of global competition it makes more sense to partner with recruitment agencies that have the broadest and deepest reaches to ensure you can bring in the best engineers and add value to your world-class businesses.

Bryan Flood is UK recruitment manager for engineering and manufacturing at NES Global Talent