Tackling the skills gap in the rapidly changing engineering industry
The engineering and infrastructure sector is developing at a rapid pace. There has been growth over the past decade, with the number of people working in engineering increasing from 5.4 million in 2010 to 5.7 million in 2021, with a peak of 6.3 million in 2019. Smart Machines & Factories reports.
On top of this, the UK is ramping up its focus on becoming a net zero economy, and a report commissioned by Engineering UK found that demand for engineers is predicted to grow faster than for other occupations, with vacancies for ‘green engineering’ roles increasing by more than half (55%) over the last 5 years.
In light of this, the report also found that recruitment activity for engineering roles accounted for a quarter of all job postings in the UK, pointing toward a rising concern that has been looming in the engineering sector: skills shortages. These findings suggest that the skills gap is either greater in engineering than in other sectors, that employers are hiring for future growth or a combination of the two.
Jonathan Hornagold, Apprenticeship Manager at Amey – a leading provider of full-lifecycle engineering, operations and decarbonisation solutions for transport infrastructure and complex facilities – agrees with this, explaining how the speed of digital and IT is impacting the engineering industry. He tells us: “Keeping pace with the changes that are occurring in the engineering industry – and beyond – is certainly a challenge for many businesses.
“We want to ensure that we continue to serve those we work alongside with the best, most up-to-date solutions. Our purpose is to deliver sustainable infrastructure solutions and to protect our shared future; upskilling, therefore, is a massive part of that.
“We want to be able to keep pace and traction when it comes to serving our clients and the public, while simultaneously meeting our employees’ needs.”
With the engineering industry becoming increasingly competitive, it is not surprising that many in the sector are fighting for the right people to stay. Talent retention is growing in importance, with many businesses in various sectors looking towards how they can invest in their employees.
On top of this, the engineering industry experiences employee turnover at a greater rate than most other sectors. According to LinkedIn data, the tech and media industry has the second-highest turnover rate; this not only places more value on talent retention but actually points towards the sheer importance of effective leadership. In fact, it has been found to be among the top business skills prospective employers in the engineering industry seek in candidates.
Expanding on this is Stacey Allen, Director of Corporate Partnerships at Arden University commented: “Upskilling serves a twofold purpose: it keeps businesses relevant in a rapidly transforming economy, while also showing that your business is investing in and cares about your employees’ development and career goals. This, in turn, helps with talent retention. More engineering companies need to take advantage of this.
“But employee happiness trickles down from leadership teams. With senior leaders directing the way, it’s vital that they refine their skills to ensure they’re matching business needs to push forward in a tough climate. With the industry needing more and more specialised talent to compete effectively, showing you can invest in your employees’ career growth is a great way to keep people on board.”
Closing the leadership gap
Jonathan shares how he is helping his team at Amey to upskill through apprenticeship degrees. With many engineering qualifications often leaving graduates with the technical skills but none of the soft skills needed to progress into management and leadership roles, he wanted employees to progress through apprenticeship degrees.
“The Level 7 Senior Leader Apprenticeship Degree allows our employees to develop the management skills needed to progress upward in Amey,” explains Jonathan.
“We also wanted the culture of learning to trickle down to the rest of the business, so getting our team to learn and develop at a senior level will hopefully set the tone for more junior members of our team to also get stuck into lifelong learning.
“This is not a ‘tick box’ exercise. We want our employees to demonstrate and put into practice what they’re learning in the workplace and exercise that learning within our business – and apprenticeship degrees are perfect for that.”
Working alongside Arden University, Amey has placed several employees on their Level 7 Senior Leadership Apprenticeship Degree. Covering modules such as managing digital transformation and innovation, and leading global teams and organisations, this senior leader apprenticeship helps businesses refine and sharpen their employees existing skills.
Stacey explained: “What makes a Level 7 Senior Leader Apprenticeship different is that the delivery of our course is blended into day-to-day work. Our students attend live sessions with academics and have an assigned professional coach who will have virtual meetings to help support them in turning workplace experiences into learning experiences.
“Once students have successfully completed our programme, they’ll be awarded an Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) qualification, as well as the Chartered Management Institute Diploma in Strategic Management and Leadership Practice. They will also receive an accreditation from the Chartered Management Institute, offering them the opportunity to obtain the professionally recognised status of Chartered Manager.
“These qualifications can really make employees stand out. But more importantly, it will prepare them for a step-up role at Amey.”
There are practical aspects involved when it comes to upskilling in the engineering sector. As Jonathan highlighted: “We needed a flexible approach for our employees due to them working in demanding roles. Studying online means if they’re commuting throughout the UK to be on-site for work, they can still log on and study – something which was really important for my team.”
This also opens up access to education. For those with families to take care of, or even those unable to personally fund an MBA, an online apprenticeship degree with Arden can provide them with the opportunity to build their skillset and grow. This, in turn, can help with solving other issues the engineering industry is currently facing, especially the need to improve diversity.
Jonathan concluded: “With how fast changes are occurring, and how quickly the industry needs to respond, upskilling our employees is definitely a strong and much needed approach for us at Amey. It’s served us well, and we are hoping to get more of our people involved and partnering with Arden University, to hopefully mitigate the risks that come with the growing skills gaps.”