Half of key UK industries surveyed believe their sector is suffering a skills shortage – and even more expect the shortfall to get worse, according to research commissioned by elemense, the leading recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) provider.

According to the elemense/OnePoll findings, the gap is seen as worst in the technical and engineering industries, with 57.7 percent overall identifying a problem in these compared to the next highest (26.6 percent) in professions such as finance or HR.

The results reveal that 54.5 percent of respondents felt the lack of skills in science, technology, engineering and maths would only get worse over the next five years.

The results are being presented today at a roundtable event at Imperial College, London (May 29, 2012), attended by representatives from organisations such as Balfour Beatty, Chevron, Invensys, Lloyds Register, PBA, Ricardo, and Transport for London, as well as by skills and learning bodies e-skills and STEMNET.

The revealing survey not only confirmed the anecdotal evidence which has been causing growing unease, but also highlighted regional variations and differences in attitudes depending on workers’ age, seniority and gender.

Commenting on the results, elemense managing director Peter Collis said: “The results come amid fears that the UK is slipping in its capacity to compete against global rivals, particularly in the technology and knowledge-based economy, as businesses and organisations find it increasingly difficult to find candidates with appropriate technical and engineering skills and experience.”

He added: “This is being exacerbated by the shocking 68.8 percent who think the current generation of students do not have ‘robust attitudes and the right aptitudes to prepare for work in the knowledge-based and technology industries’.”

Speaking on behalf of STEMNET – the national network that aims to increase young people’s choices through science, technology, engineering and mathematics – regional networks manager for the South East Dr Ajay Sharman said: “It is no surprise that the elemense/OnePoll survey has revealed a critical STEM skills shortage. STEMNET believes that by inspiring young people to study STEM subjects, more young people will develop the required skills to support the UK economy. To achieve this, we work with 25,000 STEM Ambassadors who volunteer as inspirational role models for young people, doing activities that explore the real-world applications of STEM subjects in school.”

The most alarmed were respondents working in computing and electronics; 84.4 percent of whom believed there was a skills shortage. In engineering, 79.4 percent thought the same.

The research sought the opinions of 1,100 respondents – from company leaders down – in the industries of finance and banking, construction, property, manufacturing, computing, engineering, public services, telecoms, utilities, environmental services and education.

There was also an implied criticism of education – with 45.4 percent pointing to education as having the greatest responsibility for training the next generation of engineers and technicians.

Regional findings
The overall pattern of about half reporting a skills gap was repeated around the country, but was highest in the West Midlands where the figure rose to 54.8 percent, compared to only 37.8 percent in East Anglia.

East Anglia had a majority of 73.3 percent who felt students had the right attitudes and aptitudes – in stark contrast with Wales where 80.4 percent felt the opposite.

Technical and engineering, as the worst-hit sector for skills nationally, appeared to be struggling most in the South East, where 68.3 percent believed there was a shortfall, followed by 66.7 percent in Northern Ireland.”

Role levels
Company seniority also made a difference with 60 percent of the highest ranking respondents reporting a skills shortage, compared to 28.6 percent of the most junior. Of those top managers, 64.3 percent predicted it would get worse.

Older workers were much more pessimistic than their younger colleagues: among those aged over 54, 67.5 percent believed the skills shortage would worsen, compared to a slight minority of 49.6 percent of younger employees aged 18-24 in agreement.

Younger staff also put more emphasis on employers providing skills than the education sector with 42.1 percent holding that view, compared to only 30 percent of the over-54 age group, of whom 46.3 percent felt it was education’s responsibility.

Men were most concerned about the problems in technical and engineering, with 62.8 percent highlighting a skills gap – more than 10 percentage points higher than women at 51.9 percent.

Peter said: “We have been hearing reports from increasing numbers of our clients and industry leaders around the country about the UK’s skills shortage, and this survey is evidence that these fears are not alarmist.

“One of the most concerning things is that a majority are predicting the situation will only get worse, and is particularly bad in sectors such as engineering, where expertise is crucial to compete in high value, knowledge-based markets.

“Our country needs growth more than ever and without the skills to compete in key industries we are in danger of being left behind – with all the consequences that will bring for communities, jobs and investment.

“We hope others will follow us in calling on the government to give this challenge the utmost priority and take action now to ensure that the UK has the workforce for the future.”