The voices of the engineering & tech workforce

Our specialist engineering and technology recruitment brands, Matchtech and Networkers, have delved into the minds of the engineering and technology workforce to find out their thoughts on the current state of these industries and what factors are affecting their career opportunities within it. Commissioning an independent global market research firm to conduct an online survey, more than 4,000 engineering and technology professionals from around the world came forward to share their views.

Today, both Matchtech and Networkers are releasing reports to share the findings from their independent pieces of research.

I’ve taken a look at some of the key findings from both reports.

The state of the engineering and tech industries

It is pleasing to report that overall the majority of engineering and technology professionals are confident that the sector they work in will grow in the next 12 months. Around half of the survey respondents (44% of engineering and 49% of technology professionals) also expect their organisation will be recruiting in the same period. This level of confidence is quite reassuring for the engineering and technology industries during a time of unprecedented political change within the UK - with Brexit- and in the US, with a new and very different President.

On the subject of the US elections (the surveys were conducted in November, during the election campaign), more than half of engineering and technology professionals in the US expressed concern about the potential impact of the election on their sector. In the UK, there was less of a clear distinction about the impact of Brexit, although more technology professionals (58%) expressed concern compared to engineers (49%).

So what other issues are the engineering and technology workforce worried about?

Not surprisingly with the amount of political change we have seen in the past year, financial factors such as reducing budgets and the economic outlook were seen as the biggest threats to sector growth. Another factor which can have an impact on growth is skills shortages.

Both Engineering and Technology are defined by the technical skills they require but as is well known and for a number of reasons, there just aren’t enough people with the necessary skills coming through. Whilst this is an issue which is well-documented in the media what our research highlights is the extent of these skills gaps, from the perspective of the people who are experiencing the problems it causes. 57% of the technology workforce believe there is a skills shortage within their sector and amongst the engineering community, the situation is even worse, with 69% recognising a lack of skills across the industry. Whilst around a quarter of the engineering and technology professionals surveyed agreed that promoting engineering and technology as a career choice to younger generations is an important factor in tackling the issue, they also acknowledged a number of other potential solutions, indicating that there is no single solution to the skills shortage.

It is encouraging that both industries have been investing considerable amounts into initiatives which educate younger people about career opportunities within engineering and technology, but is there a real target for their spend? And as a collective, where should organisations working in the STEM industry focus their efforts?

Career aspirations and expectations

Aside from perceptions on industry wide issues, the survey also invited views from engineers and technology professionals on their personal career ambitions and what would attract them to a new employer.

On the topic of transferring into a different sector, 65% would consider making the move. More than half are also open to the possibility of trying a different skill set, with the most popular choice being project and programme management. The responses from the engineering workforce also indicated a preference for moving into more technology-led skillsets, with 29% expressing their desire for learning skill sets like automation, electronics, hardware and software. This is a sign of the convergence between traditional engineering skillsets and those previously only associated with the IT profession.

When asked, what would most influence their decision to transfer, the main reason for engineers would be to take on more interesting projects and work. For employers in the industry, this highlights that promoting exciting projects is key to attracting new talent. For people who work in technology, the most influential factor would be the opportunity to learn new skills. In a skills short market, IT and telecommunications employers must give their employees the opportunity to explore new skill sets, if they are to retain their staff.

The willingness to transfer sectors and take on new skills is a sign of today’s flexible workforce. Another finding from the research which supports this open-mindedness is the number of people who would consider moving abroad during their career. Around half of the engineering and technology community would consider working in another country at some point in their working life, with the most likely destination being Europe. For engineers, Europe also happens to be the region which is seen as the most industry leading, compared to North America, which technology professionals cite as leading the way in technology.

Interestingly but perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a correlation between age and a willingness to move abroad, with the younger millennial generation (age 22-34) more likely to say yes to working in another country, compared to Gen X (35-49) or boomers (50-59). The drivers for wanting to work abroad also vary by age group, with boomers particularly motivated by the prospect of a lifestyle change. Millennials who work in technology, however, are just as motivated by the appeal of better pay and conditions.

From an employer perspective, good pay and conditions cannot be underestimated in the attraction and retention of staff. Good pay and benefits is not only the most attractive incentive that would encourage an engineering or technology professional to join a new employer but non-competitive pay and benefits also happens to be top at a list of reasons why someone would consider leaving their current employer. Also high on the list is a negative culture, with around 40% of engineering and technology professionals saying this would make them leave their employer.

With the skills shortages we’ve identified, it is clear that it is more important than ever to attract young people and retain existing talent within Engineering and Technology and to do this it takes more than just offering a competitive benefits package. Are engineering firms in particular paying enough attention to their Employer Value proposition? Are they monitoring their perceived culture? Are they clear what they want their culture to be? Getting this area right could be a huge retention tool in a vital area.

Future expectations

So how does the future look for the engineering and technology industries?

Well, according to the people who work within it, the engineering industry doesn’t expect to see much change. Almost two thirds believe their role will remain mostly unchanged in the next five years.

It is a different story in the technology industry. With cyber security, the Internet of Things and Big Data expected to considerably disrupt the industry, 27% of technology professionals believe their role will change substantially in the next five years. Worryingly, nearly a third of tech professionals are concerned that their company is unfit to meet rapidly changing technological demands either because their employer is unaware of the future changes to their sector or because they are aware but not taking any action to address them. Time will tell if their concerns become a reality.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Matchtech’s research with the engineering workforce, you can download the report here.

If you’re interested in Networkers’ research with the technology workforce, you can download the report here.