2018 Workforce Climate

As we head in to 2018 we take a look at what next year holds for the UK workforce, particularly within the engineering industry. A particular cause for concern for many companies is the changing age profile of the workforce which could be one of the most significant developments in the UK labour market for years. A predicted third of the UK’s workers will be over 50 by 2020, this has left many people wondering where we will find skilled employees in a lacking market.


How do employers view the current climate?

A large proportion of the UK’s employers see cause for concern post-Brexit, with just over 4 in 10 (42%) predicting a negative impact on business. This concern arises from a number of issues, many of which relate to the nation’s workforce. Employers maintain that the result of the EU referendum will not impact the way they operate; however, with many organisations recruiting staff from Europe, this may limit the resource pool available.

Organisations also seem to be anxious about limited skills and resources coming from UK universities, with 53% citing a lack of available graduate candidates in the industry. However, there may be good news on the horizon, with the government increasingly investing into STEM subjects -and particularly women in STEM.

This may be a catalyst for companies to reflect on the diversity of their workplace. In a recent survey  that they don’t have gender diversity initiatives in place, this lack of gender diversity has been dubbed the ‘leaky pipeline’ due to just a 25% retention rate in women staff, compared to 40% for their male colleagues.

In the short term, the majority of businesses understand that they need to play their part in developing an effective workforce due to the limitations in recruitment. Companies must now start developing medium and long term plans in order to guarantee future skills, especially given that EngineeringUK reports a 25% increase in the annual shortfall of engineers and technicians.


How can we bridge the gap?

The government is helping to address the shortage of skilled employees for the benefit of organisations and providing initiatives and pathways into the industry. The main focus seems to be on women, providing clear development routes for those with the passion and talent for engineering roles. TES reports consistently good GCSE performance from girls in science subjects, and in 2017, girls make up two thirds of highest achievers. However, only 9% of the engineering workforce is female.

We have also seen improved diversity in other protected characteristics within the workforce, but we certainly have a long way to go in order to see real changes. An example of this disparity is demonstrated between white and BAME graduates: 6 months post-graduation, 60% of white engineering graduates are in engineering roles, compared to only 40% for BME graduates.

In addition to diversity initiatives, changing young people’s perceptions of engineering is also a government focus which has been effective thus far: 49% of 15 to 16 year olds said they would pursue a career in engineering in 2015, which is up from 37% five years earlier. The government and other stakeholders need to continue to transform perceptions in order to see a lasting change within the engineering industry.

There are challenges that must be overcome in order to bridge the gap. One of the main issues EngineeringUK identifies is the limited number of viable, engineering apprenticeships which provide clear access routes to future careers. This is likely to be resolved with the government committing to creating 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 and could help to ignite the economy with 12bn being generated for the UK through apprenticeships.

Graduate to Employee

The lack of individuals ‘work ready’ is of serious concern for many employers; 78% of employers see work experience as an essential component to ensure individuals are ‘work ready’. The Engineering Professors Council (EPC) recognises this lack of work experience and believes it needs to ‘assume greater prominence in engineering degrees’ as placements for all courses are not possible.

Comparatively the UK sees the majority of individuals going directly into professions post-degree rather than continuing further study, with only 25% of taught engineering postgrads being UK nationals and only a further 15% representing Europe.

1 in 8 of all employed first-degree graduates work in an engineering occupation six months after graduation.

The Role of Apprenticeships

The government has clearly stated their ambitions for the future and have prioritised increasing the number of apprenticeships across various professions in their workforce plans. Figures show 15% growth in total apprenticeships in England with engineering sectors accounting for 108,000, the highest figures in ten years.

Newly developed Degree Apprenticeships, available within the manufacturing and engineering sectors, are facing a huge amount of scrutiny.  These innovative schemes enable prospective engineers to pursue a career in engineering without tuition fees and earn a salary, a refreshing alternative to traditional higher education.

Policy is also helping to make strides for women in STEM subjects by utilising apprenticeships as a vehicle to diversify the engineering labour market.

The Economy of the Future

The economy has a pivotal impact on the labour market and can be the deciding factor on the number of jobs available to individuals. It’s now become accepted that the UK seems to be shifting towards an ‘hourglass economy’, so we will become more dependent on a highly skilled labour force.

The UK has seen a rapid growth in the renewables industry and interest from a variety of stakeholders. Clean technology is certainly moving from the fringes of the industry into the mainstream, promising to provide 126,000 new jobs. Fiona Spowers, Director of Riversimple, believes “It’s important that our recruits not only have the technical ability, but also have a genuine interest in sustainability,” demonstrating a dedication to find highly skilled, passionate engineers.