9th October 2018

Filling the Talent Gap

Indiana Jones went in search of the Holy Grail. Engineering faces the quest of finding, nurturing and retaining the engineers of the future.

Indiana Jones probably had the easier task!

Engineering, across its wide spectrum of sectors, is in the midst of a revolution making it one of the most exciting, challenging and engaging areas to work in.

Despite this, the UK just doesn’t have enough engineers to go around and the biggest issue facing the government, education, institutions and the private sector is ensuring an ongoing stream of talent is there to meet this demand.

Engineering UK, in its 2018 synopsis and recommendations document, claims 203,000 people with level3+ engineering skills will be required every year from now until 2024. In its analysis of filling this requirement, it estimates an annual shortfall of at least 83,000 and up to 110,000 engineers.

The document, which provides a good overview of the engineering sector, states: “Simply hiring more workers will not be enough to achieve a step change: the productivity of existing employees also needs to be improved both through investment in technology and skills, and the strengthening of the education pipeline.”

Filling the talent gap is not down to one individual, one company, one institution or even the government. It is a hugely complex issue to solve. There are many strands that can look to solve the talent gap, but with different timelines of achieving this from short-term through to long-term strategies and initiatives.

The bigger picture sees the government, through the Industrial Strategy, acknowledging there is an issue over skills and talent. People is one of the five Grand Challenges identified in the document and where significant funding is being directed to enhance STEM education in school, with additional investment to develop National Retraining Schemes that supports people to reskill, while another solution is upskilling those already in roles to meet the challenges.

Another area, which has slipped under the radar in meeting this challenge, is the growth of University Technical Colleges. These are schools for 14-19 year-olds that deliver technical education as well as core curriculum subjects. With a focus in science, engineering, digital and health, there are currently 49 UTCs across the UK- including one right here in Warrington, that work in collaboration with employers and universities to deliver the right young people into the industry.

You can also add in the work being done to enhance apprenticeships, which is seeing increasing numbers, improved marketing and efforts to recruit more women and those from diverse ethnic backgrounds, but the results are still too few to actually fill the gap.

These are mid-to-long term solutions, but what if you are an engineering business that wants to secure the talent much sooner to drive innovation and productivity.

Global management consultants Accenture, delved into the US engineering sector, which is facing the same issues as here in the UK.

The authors of the report came back with the actions needed by leaders, the decision makers in businesses, to shape and prepare the workforce along the entire talent supply chain. It established three top headlines before breaking them down into specific action points that would easily crossover to the UK.

Accelerate reskilling people

  • Reskill at the top – not just from the bottom and middle
  • Keep building on what you have – continually offer to reskill existing employees
  • Change the employee mindset to “learning as a way of life”
  • Use digital to learn digital

Redesign work to unlock people potential

  • Create a more flexible workforce model
  • Embrace collaborative design
  • Enable change through ecosystems and platforms
  • Tap into the younger members of the workforce for a knowledge boost

Strengthen the talent pipeline from its source

  • Foster national and cross-border programs
  • Collaborate with academia

Businesses looking to fill the talent gap can adapt many strategies as not one size will fit all.

Establishing the gaps in the business is a starting point, before deciding what are the best tactics to employ from both a training and recruitment standpoint. That will at least provide a perspective on how best to bring in talent whilst waiting for the various initiatives to deliver the future talent aimed at filling the gap.