UK ‘faces 36,800 shortfall in qualified engineers by 2050’

Britain faces a shortfall of 66,800 construction workers and 36,800 qualified engineers by 2050 due to skills shortages, an ageing workforce and restrictive migration policy, according to Randstad CPE.

Recruitment specialist Randstad CPE said the UK workforce as a whole will have a deficit of 3.1 million by 2050, a figure that represents nine per cent of the required workforce.

Using employment rates from the most recent European population analysis from Eurostat — the statistical office of the European Union — as a measure of demand, Randstad analysed the projected changes in UK population and working age rate for 2050 to establish the gap between employment demand and workforce supply.

The analysis showed that with a population of 74.5 million, in 2050 the UK will require a workforce of 35.4 million to meet demand. However, with a pool of 45.1 million people (60.5 per cent of the population) forecast to be eligible to work in 2050, even if the employment rate matches pre-downturn levels of 71.6 per cent, an ageing population will leave the UK with only 32.3 million people in employment — 3.1 million short of the 35.4 million required to meet demand.

Randstad also forecast the workforce shortfall across some key professions. Qualified engineers represent 1.2 per cent of the UK workforce while construction staff represent two per cent, assuming this proportion remains constant, by 2050, the UK will have a deficit of 36,800 engineers and 66,800 construction workers.

The education sector will be the worst affected with a projected shortfall of 128,000 teachers.

In a statement, Owen Goodhead, managing director of Randstad CPE, said: ‘Our projections for the size of the engineering workforce are conservative, yet they paint a very grim picture for the UK’s economic prospects. Unless we can plug the employment gap, the engineering and construction sectors will be unable to perform efficiently and this will have serious consequences for the prosperity of the country.’

Migration is said to be one of the key drivers behind the skills shortage in the engineering and construction sectors.

Since 2007, overall work-related migration from the UK has risen 16 per cent while work-related immigration has fallen 24 per cent over the same period (see chart below). The combination of poor economic performance and changes to immigration policy have made the UK a less attractive place to work among the world’s most talented professionals and trades people.  

However, the UK engineering and construction sectors have also had to deal with significant demand for talent from overseas. Huge infrastructure projects in preparation for the World Cup and Olympics in Brazil are providing a huge draw for international talent, as is demand in locations such as Nigeria for its oil industry, Australia for mining and New Zealand for earthquake reconstruction.

An ageing workforce is also a threat to the future of the engineering sector with the industry facing huge levels of retirement over the coming decades. This presents a particular problem for the large-scale energy projects planned in UK over the coming years. EDF plans to invest £20bn in low-carbon nuclear generation over next 15 years, however, 70 per cent of current nuclear workforce will be retired by 2025.