Why businesses should collaborate to close the engineering skills gap

It’s no secret that the technology industry is facing a significant skills gap in UK engineering. A recent report published by the Institution of Engineering & Technology uncovered that as many as 49% of engineering businesses were coming up against challenges when searching for skilled workers, leading to a six-figure shortfall of engineers that has cost the economy £1.5 billion per annum. By Bev Markland, Chief People Officer at Agilitas

Today, engineering leaders are imploring the UK government to take action, requesting a re-examination and refreshed school curriculum that include more of a focus on engineering with a clear gender balance to encourage young girls to consider the sector as a career choice. Until these issues are addressed, however, technology businesses need to step up and take action to close the skills gap.

Identifying the Skills Gap

Defined as the misconnect between employee skill sets and what is required to complete their job effectively, the skills gap is a growing concern. This is especially true as the skill sets that workers need continue to evolve over time in our dynamic and fast-paced business environment, with previously manual tasks becoming automated and other external factors impacting workplaces. In fact, 56% of hiring managers stated that technological advancements, such as artificial intelligence, will significantly change the skills they require from candidates.

As a result, technology companies must begin to identify the skills necessary to remain competitive in the market. They need to pinpoint any workforce gaps or skill shortages, before developing strategies to fill those gaps. This involves defining the specific skill sets associated with each role to hire and retain the right talent.

Promoting Learning and Development

The World Economic Forum recently reported that more than half of all employees worldwide need to upskill or reskill by 2025 in order to embrace new responsibilities driven by automation and emerging technologies.

With that in mind, businesses should consider investing in educational initiatives that promote engineering as a viable career choice. Partnering with academic institutions, offering scholarships, and supporting engineering-focused programs are great ways to attract more students to pursue engineering careers and bridge the skills gap from an early stage.

Learning and Development (L&D) initiatives, such as a strategic workforce education program, also enable employees to keep their skills up to date and further their careers while meeting the industry’s changing demands. Furthermore, implementing workforce education programs that promote upskilling and reskilling within an organisation will help close skills gaps and prepare companies for future advancements.

Research demonstrates that organisations that invest in the critical practices that drive L&D success are 59% more likely to experience growth, are 27% more cost-efficient, and consistently deliver higher engagement, retention, and leadership scores. Companies must therefore create a solid L&D infrastructure, content, and organisation strategy roadmap.

In addition, establishing comprehensive in-house training programs enables businesses to upskill their existing workforce. By offering tailored engineering training, employees can acquire the necessary knowledge and expertise to excel in their roles, contributing to a more skilled engineering workforce in the future.

At Agilitas, we are continuously promoting L&D opportunities to encourage our employees to either attain formal qualifications or to attend in-house training and employee wellbeing workshops, all of which are aimed at developing engagement, retention and leadership.

Encouraging a Gender Balance

Women remain a minority in both STEM education and careers, representing only 28% of engineering graduates, 22% of artificial intelligence workers and less than one-third of the global technology sector employees. Now is the time to rethink if the broad subject area of engineering is to appeal to more women.

Several strategies have been used to encourage young women to consider engineering as a viable career option, including outreach programs aimed at students, mentoring programs, information sessions, workshops and summer camps. In line with this, we have enrolled six of our female employees to shortly embark on a STEM three-day course run by a local university.

Another initiative that has seen success is Sheffield’s Women in Engineering Society, which brings thought-provoking and informative material to secondary and primary schools. They are making engineering and science exciting for schoolchildren while simultaneously degendering the field.

Investing in Outsourcing

For businesses, investing in education and training will significantly help to cultivate an educated engineering workforce, with opportunities to leverage outsourcing for technical training to achieve this goal more efficiently. Offering scholarships and grants to aspiring engineering students can also reduce the financial barriers to education, enabling talented individuals from diverse backgrounds to pursue engineering careers.

Companies can also consider Research and Development Funding which fosters innovation within the engineering field. Not only does this lead to advancements in technology, but it also attracts top talent to participate in cutting-edge research, thereby enhancing the overall quality of the engineering workforce.

It is estimated that companies spend an average of 26% of their training budget on external (outsourced) suppliers and approximately 64% on internal resources. This highlights the resources available to outsource technical training to specialised providers with in-depth knowledge and expertise in the specific engineering domain, ensuring that the training delivered is high quality and covers all relevant aspects.

Outsourced training also helps workers keep updated on advancements, helping companies maintain a competitive edge in the market. Furthermore, setting up an in-house training program can be expensive and time-consuming, whereas outsourcing technical training allows businesses to focus on their core business activities while leaving the training responsibilities to external experts.

Furthermore, investment in education and training will create a solid and educated engineering workforce. At the same time, businesses can benefit from outsourcing technical training to specialised providers to ensure their employees have the knowledge and skills required to excel in engineering. This collaboration can lead to a more competent, innovative, and efficient engineering ecosystem.

Building a Brighter Future

The engineering skills gap continues to challenge UK businesses, impacting the economy and hindering their growth in the technology sector. As engineering leaders urge the government to take action, companies must collaborate to address this challenge. By embracing proactive measures and launching L&D initiatives, these organisations can play a pivotal role in closing the engineering skills gap. A well-educated, diverse, and skilled engineering workforce will drive growth and innovation, and fortify the UK's position as a leader in the technology sector for years to come.

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