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16 Feb 2015
As an early careers recruiter for Atkins I am part of the team responsible for attracting and recruiting graduates and apprentices for our UK business. However, with Atkins looking to recruit around 400 new early careers starters this year, we’re experiencing the growth in the number of early careers vacancies appearing in UK construction industry and the pressures of the growing skills gap first hand.
Whilst the industry reacts to the current skills deficit by increasingly hiring at an early careers level, I’ve observed greater competition between companies to secure STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skill sets for the future. In my opinion this competition for STEM expertise is the first sign of the looming skills deficit.
A series of articles published by The Guardian in 2015 (ref: one, two, three) along with the recent Atkins ‘Skills Deficit’ report, appears to support this and shows that as an industry we have huge obstacles to overcome in the next few years if we are going to be able to recruit the skills we need.
It’s widely discussed that UK universities are not currently producing enough STEM graduates that subsequently stay in the engineering sector to meet industry needs and much more needs to be done to develop gender equality.
The 2014 admissions data from UCAS, the UK’s universities clearing house, reveals that while women have outnumbered men in admissions for years, men remain over-represented in most STEM subjects, most notably in engineering where there are 20,000 more men than women, and computing science, where there are 17,000 more.
In addition, it is clear that we are going to have to look beyond the UK and even beyond the EU over the next few years to secure the skills that the UK industry needs for 2020. Data from 2012-13 suggests that 43% of all postgraduates enrolled in UK engineering and technology were non-EU students, and 50% of those in maths.
With this in mind it is important that the skills deficit in our industry remains at the heart of UK immigration policy considerations.
The move towards increased STEM training and apprenticeships for young people is encouraging, as without more young people undertaking STEM subjects I feel we’ll not be able to conquer the deficit.
The Guardian reports that in 2013, only “7,280 apprentices completed their training across all trades while Construction Skills, the training body, estimates the industry needs 35,000 new entrants just to stand still.”
And a Department for Business Innovation & Skills report (PDF) from March 2014 into technical apprentice provision, goes on to state that:
“An increase in the demand for skilled labour resulting from, say, the start of a major infrastructure development, could quickly result in skill shortages in local labour markets. This suggests that there is a lean system of skills supply in place for technician-type skills. This presents the risk of current supply being unable to keep pace with demand if there is a pick-up in the demand side especially when set within the context of expected future levels of replacement demand for people to work in associated professional and skilled trades occupations”
I would suggest that the construction industry needs to work more closely with government to facilitate this training provision as current learning providers are not yet fully prepared to meet the demand with adequate apprenticeship provision.
In my opinion, the industry needs to be open to the increased use of EU and global labour markets. We need to provide extra encouragement and careers advice to young people, particularly young women, and support them in the study of STEM subjects. Government and industry also need to work together to ensure more training options are available, as well as making the courses relevant to the careers available after qualification.
Overall I would argue that if we are to secure the STEM talent needed for the UK in 2020, change already needs to be underway. There is no one solution to the problem and tackling the skills deficit will require multiple changes to happen at the same time.
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Faithful+Gould is a member of the Atkins group of companies.
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