What can we do about the engineering shortage?

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James Fitzpatrick, Managing Director of Boden Group Recruitment shares his insight into the persistent shortage in engineering candidates, including steps FM companies could take to attract a new generation of engineering talent.

There has been a persistent shortage in engineering candidates for several years now, which is set to deepen over the coming 12 months. This may lead to employers within the hard FM space finding it increasingly difficult to source and win talent.

Almost 20% of the present engineering workforce is due to retire within five years. Less than half of that number are entering the profession. Of course, there are a number of reasons for this, Covid and Brexit notwithstanding. Between a decline in apprenticeships over the past three decades and a reduction of entry-level positions, a skills gap has emerged that seems impossible to plug.

Even with a huge drive to increase awareness of engineering careers at higher education level, it may be too late to see the benefit. Despite engineering having one of the highest graduate employment rates, there remains a sector wide skills shortage.

And it’s not surprising – there’s a widespread lack of awareness around engineering as a career, how to get into it, and what kind of work it entails. Almost half (47%) of 11-19 yr olds don’t know what engineers do and 39% say they wouldn’t know what to do to become an engineer.

A third of young people view engineering as too hard or boring, and two thirds believe STEM subjects to be harder than arts.

So how can we encourage more people to enter the field?

Well, from a recruiter’s perspective, here are four areas where I would suggest Facilities Management companies could focus to increase their possible talent pool:

STEM outreach

Studies show STEM outreach can and does work: young people attending a STEM careers activity in the previous 12 months were over three times as likely to consider a career in engineering than those who had not. Giving young people opportunities to see the value of STEM subjects and the impact of careers in engineering actively leads to an increase in those subjects being studied.

Facilities Management is a more attractive career choice than ever, with the increase in digital technology, robotics and automation, as well as more opportunities to influence the makeup and strategic use of space. Reaching out to schools and higher education facilities to highlight the benefits of STEM and engineering careers will lead to increased interest in the sector.

Gender diversity

Engineering has historically been a sector dominated by men. Positively, the number of women entering the field has almost doubled over the past decade, though they’re still outnumbered by men at 4:1. By overtly encouraging women to join engineering apprenticeships, and actively recruiting for women, you’ll be expanding your potential talent pool, and nurturing new candidates within the industry.

Engineering funding

Offering funding for young people to undertake engineering training will have a positive impact on the numbers of people entering the field. This is especially important for attracting candidates from low socio-economic backgrounds. With the costs of universities spiralling, and a lack of knowledge around pathways into engineering, offering funding for a range of different forms of study could boost candidate numbers.

Whether taking a hands-on route and gaining a NEBOSH or similar whilst working, doing a degree in engineering, or taking on an apprenticeship, offering young people a range of options and financial support to train will result in a fresh talent pool that has long term loyalty to your organisation.

Veteran training

Many people leaving the Armed Forces find themselves with a challenging transition into employment. However, a large number already have a lot of the skills and knowledge required to move into the field of engineering.

FM companies would be well placed to reach out to veterans and support them through fast-track engineering qualifications. This would increase the number of people working in engineering far more immediately than the early intervention work I’ve mentioned.

These four options cover long and medium-term strategies to increase engineering candidate numbers. But even short-term ideas take some time to implement, and when you have vacancies that need to be filled right now, you need an immediate answer to the lack of candidates on the market.

Our engineering recruitment specialists have seen the numbers of candidates reduce over the past six months, and spoken with clients who are struggling to find talent to fill their vacancies.

For hiring managers in this position, my advice would be to consider hiring an contractor or interim candidate, who will be able to provide a safe and knowledgeable pair of hands while you find the right people for your team long term.

Ultimately, unless action is taken, we’ll see the shortage of high-calibre engineers entering the industry become increasingly apparent over the next 10 years. This is bound to have serious repercussions for the productivity and creativity of UK businesses, and the FM sector in particular.

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