The engineering skills gap: in-demand skills to hire for

  • 24/04/2020
  • 11:02
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When some people think of engineering, the ‘hard hat’ stereotype comes to mind. In reality, engineering is far more than that - it's a hugely diverse field and is involved in almost every aspect of our lives.

As technology advances, independent sciences combine to find new solutions, which in turn drives further development. Simultaneously, there's a clear sign of the increasing need for a skilled workforce in the engineering and technology sectors. Data from Engineering UK’s recent report, ‘The state of engineering’, shows that there's an annual demand for 124,000 engineers and technicians, as well as 79,000 related roles that require a mixed application of engineering knowledge and skill, alongside other skill sets. Alarmingly, in the current market, there's an anticipated annual shortfall of up to 59,000 engineering graduates and technicians to fill these engineering roles.

Stephen McGrath, Senior Consultant says “We have learned very recently that we all need to be ready to adapt to change. Fortunately the engineering industry is changing at a slower (but still exciting pace) compared to recent events. This should allow employers to recognise transferable skills and make way for valued employees to make grow and develop. If you are part of that skilled work force and you see a chance, do not be afraid to speak up and grab any opportunity that comes your way.”

Where does the engineering skills gap come from?

In the future, new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) will become an integral part of businesses, and those changes will affect every sector to some extent. Due to their highly technical nature, engineering jobs are especially prone to those changes. Advancements in technology will enable the automation of many production tasks, but engineers of all types will still be in high demand - however, their focus may shift towards the design process, meaning a different set of skills will be required.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is having a transformative impact on engineering roles. The distinction between the digital, physical and biological worlds is shrinking and technology is changing faster than ever. This had led to an expanding gap between current skill sets and those needed for the modern world.

Another contributing factor to the shortfall in engineering talent could be a decreased awareness of what is involved in engineering and the huge part it plays in our everyday lives. When young people are making decisions about their future career choices, more could be done to increase this awareness or to guide them to the entry routes to the fields in engineering. Engineering companies therefore have an important role to play in promoting their industry and attracting future talent.

Here are five recommendations to ensure that your company can address its skills gap and remain competitive in today’s market:

  • Hire a highly skilled workforce
    In a recent survey, 80 percent of companies said that hiring good engineers is essential for the future of their business. Without them, they will be faced with the loss of competitiveness in the market, poor innovation and higher costs of production. Hiring a skilled workforce is essential to avoiding these issues.
  • Hire a workforce with mixed skills
    Part of the solution to remaining competitive in the market is hiring smartly. Rather than looking for a complete skill set in every engineer, it can be beneficial to employ engineers with different, but complementary, skill sets. In the future, we can expect that there will be an increased need for a variety of skills in the workplace and collaboration between different experts. Consequently, engineers who have been exposed to other engineering disciplines and have experience working in multi-discipline teams may find themselves with an edge over other candidates. Being open to hiring employees that come from diverse engineering sectors such as mechanical, electrical, software and systems could help you build a strong and successful team to take the business forwards.
  • Enhance your Employee Value Proposition (EVP)
    The shortfall in engineering students means that competition in this sector of the employment market is fierce. Companies wanting to hire top talent need to consider a hiring strategy that involves attractive compensation and benefits, along with highlighting other differentiators such as a positive working culture, ongoing professional development and opportunities for progression. Consider offering higher base salaries, a competitive annual leave entitlement and popular flexible working options such as part-time or remote work.
  • Look out for valuable soft skills
    When assessing candidates’ technical skills and abilities, try not to overlook the value of their ‘soft’ skills too. Soft skills are personal strengths such as communication, interpersonal skills and critical thinking. Some of the most valuable soft skills to look out for in engineering candidates include:

    • Communication: Engineers need to be able to communicate complex technical problems and solutions in a way that clients can understand. This means the ability to communicate the most important technical aspects of the job while having in mind the client's non-technical perspective.
    • Problem-solving: Developing strong problem-solving skills is an essential part of success. Although engineers need to demonstrate a sound understanding of theoretical concepts, having broad hands-on experience, adaptability and a proven record of a creative approach to problem-solving could make them even more of an asset to your team.
    • Organisation: Look out for candidates that are able to demonstrate good organisational skills. These include the ability to prioritise tasks and work to challenging deadlines.
    • Teamwork: While being able to complete tasks independently is important, engineers rarely work on a project that can be completed alone. The ability to work in a team is a valuable soft skill in engineering.
    • Adaptability: With technology rapidly changing, the ability to adapt quickly to new situations and processes is becoming more important.
    • Creativity: Many people have a misconception about creativity and technical jobs. However, many engineers are creative and find new ways of looking at things.
  • Work with specialist recruiters
    Hiring top talent can be a demanding task especially in today's market, with high demand but a short supply of engineers. Consider taking advantage of the services of a recruitment consultant that specializes in the field, to boost your chances of hiring top candidates by giving you access to their network of talent as well as their industry expertise.

As industry experts we’re perfectly positioned to find the right candidates. For help with your hiring needs or to find your next role, contact us.