A whopping 5.5 million UK workers — or 18% of all employed people in the country — are currently employed in the vast field of engineering and manufacturing. 

But when we talk about engineering, what areas do we mean, exactly? This vast sector spans aerospace, IT, infrastructure, manufacturing, surveying, telecoms, and transportation. 

While some engineering sub-sectors like mining and quarrying have experienced a continuous decline over the past few decades, others are thriving.

In particular, the space, nuclear, biotechnology, automation, robotics, and pharmaceuticals industries are booming and recruiting for lots of new talent.

The future of engineering recruitment in the UK: challenges and opportunities

Keeping all these facts in mind, what will the future of engineering recruitment look like in 2022 and beyond?

We’ve put together a handy guide about engineering recruitment, including challenges and opportunities for growth in the industry.

A Shortage of Skilled Workers

One of the most pressing challenges for the engineering industry in the UK? Without a doubt, it’s the massive shortage of skilled workers.

The skills shortage has many contributing factors, including the economy in general and Brexit in particular. The UK also struggles with a lack of awareness and education about the engineering industry and an ageing workforce.

This lack of expert workers is expected to significantly impact the industry as demand for more skilled engineers grows. By 2024, experts project that the UK will need 200,000 skilled workers.

The shortage and overwhelming demand give recruiters a steep hill to climb. But it also presents a significant opportunity to invest in training, skills development, and continuing education for the existing workforce.

The skills that engineering companies and employers are looking for in candidates are as varied as the engineering industry itself. They include good IT knowledge, problem-solving, project management, attention to detail, teamwork and leadership, and commercial awareness. So it’s a good idea to look for candidates with a range of skills who are also open to learning more during their employment.

The Push Towards Digitalisation

A crucial challenge for the engineering sector is the increasing drive to digitalise systems, processes, and tasks.

The pandemic accelerated these shifts, and the push for digitalisation will continue for the foreseeable future.

Engineering firms and professionals will need to embrace more digital, paperless, and automated ways to complete tasks and tackle workflows.

And while this, of course, presents some initial difficulties, it also opens up plenty of exciting opportunities for the entire sector.

For example, digital-savvy, talented applicants will find themselves in high demand as more companies start to acknowledge — and reap — the benefits of this ongoing digital transformation.

And by employing professionals with a strong knowledge of technology, engineering firms can remain competitive and better prepare for a future in which virtual, hybrid working will be the norm.

Embracing Automation

Automation is one of the most exciting and promising innovations in engineering.

And while the adoption of automation technologies within the engineering industry in the UK has been somewhat sluggish so far, experts believe that engineering firms that embrace automation will help foster growth in the industry.

For example, automation will mean that many lower-level, repetitive tasks can be taken off employees’ plates, allowing them the time they need to focus on more important activities.

Automation will also enhance flexibility, productivity, and efficiency, which are essential features of the engineering industry.

Finally, automation in the engineering industry will also mean hiring more specialised engineers to work with automation technologies, opening up more jobs.

The Need for a Younger, More Diverse Workforce

Another big challenge that the engineering industry faces — and which it needs to address quickly — is the stark absence of diversity in its workforce.

Not only is this concerning from an ethical point of view, but it’s also a crucial factor making that massive labour shortage that we discussed earlier even worse. 

For both these reasons — at the very least — recruiters within the engineering sector must begin to commit to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

This begins by launching initiatives that attract potential candidates from minority backgrounds and better explain and clarify what the engineering industry is, why it’s so important, and how people can shape a rewarding career in engineering regardless of who they are or where they come from.

Let’s take a look at female employees, for example.

In the whole engineering sector in the UK, women account for a mere 14.5% of the total workforce. This is a meagre number if we consider that women make up half the UK population.

And while this percentage has increased in the past few years, it’s nowhere near acceptable if the industry wants to achieve more tangible and comprehensive diversity.

Similarly, engineers from minority ethnic backgrounds make up around 8% of the sector.

Engineering is also a sector that has, historically, struggled to attract young talent. This is due to many factors, including hesitancy embracing change, poor communication, and disengaged strategies to target a younger pool of applicants. 

In better news, there are currently plans to develop and kick off essential initiatives that will encourage more diverse talent to apply for positions in engineering.

Once the industry attracts a more comprehensive, younger, and diverse portion of the population, it can start addressing the skills shortage while also improving DEI.

Surviving — and thriving — in a post-pandemic landscape

We couldn’t end our guide to the future of engineering recruitment without mentioning the elephant in the room: the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of course, just like other sectors, the pandemic has severely affected the engineering industry in the UK.

However, it’s essential to recognise that most engineers and engineering firms managed to respond to this unprecedented crisis in a positive, proactive, and forward-thinking way.

For example, the industry manufactures a large portion of the PPE, ventilators, and other essential equipment to fight and treat the virus. Similarly, engineers succeeded in turning conference halls and sports centres into temporary hospitals, test sites, and vaccine facilities.

Engineers will undoubtedly continue to play a crucial role in society even after the threat of COVID-19 has waned. Thanks to the innovative thinking they demonstrated during the pandemic, we know engineering can rise to any challenge.

A brighter future for engineering recruitment

While the year ahead may bring unprecedented challenges for the UK’s engineering industry, it’s also brimming with exciting opportunities.

Engineering companies and recruiters who want to succeed in 2022 and beyond will need to focus on digitalising their operations, hiring a more diverse pool of talent, and providing their employees with ongoing training, learning, and opportunities to develop their skills.

By doing so, the engineering sector in the UK will be able to keep up with the swift pace of change that characterises our digital, post-pandemic times.

If you’re looking to upgrade your engineering recruitment, contact the expert team here at crooton. And check out our blog to learn more about recruitment in the UK, including how to talk to your team about DEI, how to deliver a great employer brand, and the state of diversity and inclusion in the UK workforce