The announcement that Brexit will be going ahead, and the ensuing negotiations have presented a huge amount of uncertainty in industries throughout the UK. In particular, businesses and services are becoming increasingly worried about a skills shortage caused by a reduction in workers from abroad. 68% of manufacturing companies have sought guidance on what the Brexit deal will mean for their current EU employees. The uncertainty is making both employers and workers feel nervous.

There has already been a drop in applications from potential employees in the EU, whilst companies are also seeing EU workers leave their jobs and return to mainland Europe permanently. The engineering sector is no exception and with the UK already experiencing a skills shortage in this sector, it is crucial for engineering companies to have a reliable contact to be able to recruit the skilled workers that they require. 

Why is there a skills shortage?

We are finding it increasingly difficult in the UK to encourage students to choose STEM subjects. Studies suggest that the UK has an engineering student shortfall of 20,000 people every year. There have been some huge efforts to improve recruitment in STEM and make the sector more attractive to bright young people. Whilst we have seen improvements in apprenticeships related to Engineering and an increase in the uptake of Engineering degrees, the shortfall continues. In particular, the attempts to recruit women into engineering have been less successful. Less than 1 in 8 people working in engineering are female and boys are five times more likely to take a degree in a STEM subject. The efforts continue but, in the meantime, finding a niche recruitment service that is responsive to your needs can help you to access the pool of talented people that you require, even though they are in short supply.

Impact on UK business

The uncertainty caused by Brexit has led a number of large engineering companies to suggest that they may need to leave the UK to access the workers that they require to fulfil their operational roles. In order to build a workforce who are skilled and competent enough to fulfil the high-level operations taking place many organisations will want to attract employees from around the globe. However, in the first instance engineering businesses will want to do everything they can to remain in the UK in order to minimise any impact on their business. There is a chance however that this will become increasingly difficult due to the increased costs that companies, in particular smaller companies, are already experiencing. The pound has dropped in value meaning that the cost of supplies and machinery imported from mainland Europe has already increased to a point that it is impacting upon profits.

Another way in which SMEs will feel the impact of Brexit is that they will struggle more than larger companies to attract non-UK engineering workers. We presume that the final agreement will allow foreign workers to enter the UK under some kind of licence or perhaps after receiving a formal job offer. SMEs will be disadvantaged by the fact that they rarely have international networks through which to attract non-UK Nationals and are less able to reach out to foreign workers via local advertising. 25% of UK companies have stated that they would be very concerned about the impact upon them if a job offer was required before EU workers were allowed to move to the UK. Experts in the field believe that the government's failure to provide a straightforward immigration process for EU nationals following Brexit will have a direct impact on employers by creating a significant skills shortage. Without the necessary skills needed to run an organisation, growth and performance of a company is likely to suffer. Engineering and IT companies in particular benefit from niche knowledge and skills that cannot always be found in the UK. They specifically seek out people from European Universities to complete specialist projects. The lack of free movement of workers removes the possibility of flexibility in the projects that UK companies are able to bid for if they are not able to access those specific skill sets.

Could Brexit offer any benefits?

To look on the bright side, in one sense Brexit could be good news for UK workers who are seeking opportunities in the engineering sector. Whilst some companies may have been reliant on workers from the EU and further afield, they will usually favour local workers where possible. This could be a great chance for UK workers interested in becoming involved in engineering to get a foot in the door and become skilled in this area. Employers have already upped their investment in training for current employees and are increasing capacity on their apprenticeship and graduate schemes in order to mitigate against the loss of EU workers. This could signal good news for current employees of British engineering firms as well, as companies offer improved pay and benefits to retain the skilled workers that they already have. The other positive that engineering companies can take from the Brexit situation is that skilled UK workers will be less able to travel abroad to work. At the moment the UK loses many talented people to countries such as Germany thanks to the free movement of people and the ability to work without a visa. Homegrown talent is now more likely to remain at home.

What does the future hold?

In order to utilise all the fantastic home-grown talent that we have in the UK, companies may need to innovate and seek candidates from a wider talent pool. Nolan Recruitment can help you to think outside the box. A good recruitment company will have excellent knowledge of their candidate's abilities and are best placed to match the ideal employee with your company.

The take home message at the moment appears to be that we must assume that Brexit will go ahead and as a result engineering companies must focus on their future and make positive long-term plans. It is not beneficial for business to dwell on what they may or may not have been lost but to look ahead and make the best of the resources they have. In order to maintain resilience long-term, companies must seek to diversify and make the most of the talent that is available within the UK. Working with a niche recruitment company that is able to attract the most skilled workers that Britain has to offer is one of the key ways in which engineering companies can weather the storm that is likely to rage during the transition process of Brexit and beyond.

Contact Nolan Recruitment today to discuss how we can help you attract the best engineering talent in 2019. Alternatively you may be a candidate looking for your next career move.