Today, EngineeringUK launches its invaluable annual ‘State of Engineering’ report, which summarises how engineering contributes to the UK economy, and provides an in-depth analysis of the supply and demand trends in UK engineering talent. A highly recommended read for anyone with an interest in UK Engineering.

As the MD of a leading engineering recruitment company, I’ve seen great progress being made in Engineering over the past year with headway being made in numerous projects; advances in technology and the adoption of this technology in multiple sectors; and more initiatives being rolled out to inspire the next generation of engineers. For engineers, it’s a good thing that their skills remain in high demand, but the persistent skills shortage within the industry and the not yet fully-known consequences of Brexit are continuing to create challenges for employers.

With 2017 long gone and 2018 picking up pace, here are the four things which I think define the UK engineering industry right now:

High-profile projects create high demand for engineers

Investment in infrastructure has created a raft of opportunities for skilled engineers, from landmark rail projects like High Speed Two (HS2), to the transformational Thames Tideway scheme, which aims to protect the River Thames from pollution for at least the next 100 years. The aerospace sector continues to grow, with back orders from Boeing and Airbus at record levels, and the energy (outside of oil and gas) and water sectors are also showing positive growth. With a national drive for renewable energy and the water sector pushing to deliver on planned works within the five year asset management cycle (AMP6), demand for engineers remains high.

Skills transfer

Mid to senior level engineers are in particularly high demand, but in short supply. One factor contributing to this is the ageing workforce: a well-established issue within engineering that continues to permeate every sector. To help tackle this issue, companies are looking at new ways of facilitating the transfer of knowledge from older employees to younger ones and many are increasing funding for the upskilling of their existing mid-level engineers. Both approaches will need to be combined with investment in innovative talent attraction techniques to help the UK meet demand and deliver on high-profile projects.

Arguably, the most productive and immediate solution to the shortage is to find ways of transferring skills between sectors to balance peaks and troughs in demand. Over half of the engineering professionals (56%) we interviewed in our Voice of the Workforce research said they would consider transferring to a different skill set, and even more (65%) would consider transferring to a different sector. Employers are becoming more flexible and open to transferrable skills; as we approach a post-Brexit world, it’s crucial that the sector adapts to the needs of the engineering workforce to maximise the potential of our existing talent pool in the UK.

Brexit’s impact

Historically, the UK has relied on talent from the European Union (EU) to plug any gaps in the workforce, but, with Brexit coming into effect, this source of skills is no longer guaranteed. What’s more, with the current strength of the Euro, there’s a risk that the UK talent pool will be tempted to relocate to other markets. The cutting-edge automotive market in Germany, for example, offers attractive opportunities to engineers from around the world.

Demand for tech skills

Technological advancements across engineering have meant that there is a growing demand for digital skills which didn’t previously exist. For example, in transport, the focus has shifted towards smart infrastructure, with the appointment of intelligent transport systems firm, Dynniq, on Highway England’s Southwest framework. The result is that highways projects now need more people with technology-focused skills, such as 4D modelling. Likewise, the rise of connected cars has created a similar demand in the automotive sector for roles such as embedded software engineers and digitally-focused technical leads.

Aerospace, a rapidly modernising sector, is following a similar path. It’s now at a stage where new, dynamic leadership is needed to drive true innovation and change. All sectors are demanding more advanced technological abilities with Building Information Modelling, 4D and modelling skills at a premium across infrastructure and construction.

For more of my thoughts, skip to page 247 of EngineeringUK’s 2018 State of Engineering report.

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