The construction and engineering sectors in the UK are facing a skills shortage of unprecedented levels. One report by Engineering UK estimates that 1.8 million people need to be trained by 2025 to fill the gap. This could have a huge effect on the country as a whole with delayed projects, falling profitability of companies and public anger at havoc on roads, bridges and railways.
So what are the factors to blame for this shortage? And more importantly what can be done about it?
Not encouraged at school
Young children might already be turned off a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) before they even reach secondary school. STEM subjects have been unpopular for a while, with many schools unable to encourage anyone to take these subjects at A-Level. Several STEM related agencies and youth schemes have pledged to support the Year of Engineering in 2018.
Not enough work experience placements
School children in many instances are not exposed to possibilities. While some schools include work experience in the school year it isn’t compulsory, and often engineering companies don’t take on pupils because of health and safety fears. Employers have a lot on their plates at present, especially with the uncertainty of Brexit, and safeguarding for the future falls below more urgent concerns.
The stigma of apprenticeships
New apprenticeship legislation – an employer levy to boost numbers of apprentices – and the introduction of new standards for the work-based training have been implemented recently. The apprenticeship levy can be used to train and develop existing employees as well as find new staff. But public perceptions need to change towards apprenticeships. Parents often don’t value this route.
The diversity issueThe number of young women embarking upon construction and engineering careers remains low. Many employers are introducing formal schemes to encourage diversity, and offering policies such as flexible working. The industry is still commonly viewed as the sole preserve of males and this is may be holding further growth back. This can be overcome with greater collaboration and partnership between educators and employers.
The BREXIT factorWith Brexit on the horizon and the uncertainty surrounding the status of EU workers, the prospects for UK employers finding construction and engineering professionals look bleak. Brexit negotiations aside there is much the industry can do but wait and see. Either way there must be an increasing collaboration between employers and educators to facilitate and encourage a much needed growth of homegrown talent in the sector. Whereas up until recently, skilled and educated workers from the continent would happily step into the breach with realistic prospects of living in the UK, it may now be seen that the UK is no longer quite as attractive for skilled foreign nationals as it once was.