Applying military intelligence to the engineering skills deficit

Atkins | 13 Feb 2015 | Comments

Any company operating in the engineering industry knows that their success is built upon the quality of their people. But if high calibre engineers are the backbone of our businesses, how will we fare in the face of the looming UK engineering skills shortage?

There’s no doubt that the imminent skills deficit has come about as a result of too few students studying STEM subjects combined with the Baby Boomer generation of engineers rapidly approaching retirement age. With this in mind, it is critical that we not only maintain but also increase the country’s pool of engineering talent. Without them, we will not have the engineers required to support the major domestic infrastructure projects that underpin the economic recovery and continued growth of the UK.

Of course we need to introduce more young people in to the industry, along with greater diversity of engineering talent, to address the longer term requirement. However, we still need to find a short-to-medium term solution. While many engineering companies are looking to import talent from other countries to address the skills gap, I believe that a more elegant solution lies closer to home.

The British Armed Forces have a well-deserved reputation for the quality of training and development it provides its personnel. Whether ‘regular’ full time military personnel or ‘Reservists’ – ordinary people who give up their free time to train and serve alongside the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force or Royal Marines – it is my belief that these people possess many qualities that are attractive to engineering businesses. These include a massive can-do attitude, excellent technical skills and a proven ability to perform well in challenging environments.

While historically engineers might have just been expected to excel in technical expertise, today they need to develop a wider range of skills. Leadership skills in particular are expected across all grades, not just those who are in management roles. Fundamentally, leadership is all about communication and motivation. I find that those who have a military background have experience of leadership and know how to motivate others in the workplace, making them an ideal addition to the industry.

However, in order to attract high calibre military people engineering companies need to ensure that they are an Armed Forces friendly organisation.

Atkins has long recognised the leadership, project management and technical skills that our ex-military personnel and Reservist staff bring and as a result we have signed the military Corporate Covenant. This voluntary pledge is a public declaration of our support of the British Armed Forces. A growing number of UK businesses have now signed the Corporate Covenant and I would urge any engineering business to do the same.

To ensure veterans and Reservists find an open door into your business I believe any company should make sure they have appropriate HR policies and procedures in place to ensure such staff have the support they need. Consideration should also be given to the two week annual training commitment that all Reservists make to their military units. The majority of the companies that are successful in attracting such people offer paid leave to cover this time – whether in part or completely.

Becoming an Armed Forces friendly organisation can certainly help recruit and retain valuable talent, bring vital leadership skills into a business and even support new business development overseas.

As I write this, the UK Armed Forces is currently undergoing a period of change, which is resulting in a growing number of skilled ex-service personnel now entering civilian life. Against this backdrop the engineering industry has a window of opportunity to recognise the value of, and open their doors to, Armed Forces veterans and Reservists in order to capitalise upon this ready pool of skilled personnel.