Employers and recruiters alike are finding that skilled talent is hard to come across. Their plea is for the UK to train up talent to ensure a supply of future workers
When asked what dominates the sector’s recruitment landscape Chris Marsh, UK director of resourcing at engineering firm Atkins, says: “I could sum it up in two words — skills shortages.”
This broad lack of talent across the country through engineering, and indeed manufacturing, is unquestioned, with Marsh adding that these issues have become more visible of late: the recession effectively masking the problem as construction and other projects have been put on hold.
In addition, some UK engineers have been “scarred by the experience of the last few years”, he says, “leaving the profession or in some cases the country” — for those, Germany is a common destination, one recruiter who did not wish to be named tells Recruiter.
Ed Wright, director of engineering at Randstad Construction, Property and Engineering, says he has to do the opposite, sourcing talent from other European countries — the more recession-hit nations in particular — but “this doesn’t mitigate all skills shortages”.
Importing talent is also costly for the recruiter, in a sector already seeing “downward margin pressure” supply chain-wide, where in places “mature” third or fourth generation master vendor contracts keep staffing costs very low, Wright adds.
Money is also a concern for Chester Booth, director, Jonathan Lee Recruitment, telling Recruiter that employers must not, cannot — but unfortunately they still sometimes try to — skimp on salaries. Clients trying to bring people in below market rate results in “negative messages”, and damaging sentiment about that employer into that already cut-throat market.
Alongside money is time. Booth notes clients sometimes take too long to make offers, creating more bad feeling — again, not what you want in such a talent-short market.
On top of time and money, there are issues of perception. Helen Baxter, head of talent, Mars Petcare & Food UK, says media reports around the state of manufacturing and its supposed decline mean it doesn’t seem “as exciting an opportunity as maybe some of the newer industries”.
This challenge of engaging people with “closed minds” just adds further complexity to the industry’s talent puzzle. With Mars currently recruiting for a “broad range” of roles across its business, Baxter tells Recruiter this challenge falls to Jonathan Fieldhouse, client relationship director at Online Resourcing, Mars’ online recruitment partner since April.
Fieldhouse is confident that Mars’ internal culture, where employees are referred to as ‘associates’, and its central ‘Five Principles’ are a “huge selling point for candidates”.
It is all very well selling your company to the scarce talent, but much as employers and recruiters are doing what they can to work with such shortages, Marsh at Atkins tells Recruiter the current state of play is already seeing the UK lose out.
Atkins’ operation in Bangalore, India is expanding, Marsh says. And its raison d’etre is not the same as a retail bank outsourcing a call centre, where maximum cost saving is number one priority. Outsourcing activity to India “is as much about the availability of skills and the quality of them” as it is any other factor.
Operations director, elemense
“Last year The Engineer reported that the UK had identified a need for 587,000 new skilled workers to meet increased demand in areas such as green energy, aerospace and transport. The story was met with a chorus of incredulity. ‘If our skills are in such short supply,’ readers asked, ‘why can’t we find any work?’
The problem is a very noticeable trend in engineering; many companies will only employ engineers from other sectors of industry as a last resort… Employers could enter more willingly into cross training and apprenticeship programmes to ensure a supply of future workers.”
UK director of resourcing, Atkins Global
“From a discipline point of view to be honest there’s no engineering discipline where I’d say to you it’s easy [to recruit]. But the ones where I think it’s most difficult, the broad disciplines would be mechanical and electrical. So if anyone reading the article has a son or a daughter at school, tell them to go study mechanical or electrical engineering and they should be fine!”
Managing director, Michael Page Engineering and Manufacturing
“Ultimately in this market at the moment there are two options for organisations — either accept the market, and that means you may have to pay higher, or you’re recruiting for long-term development.”