21 April, 2024

Skills shortage or skills mismatch?

28 April, 2016

How do we fill the skills gap in the UK manufacturing sector? A question commonly asked. But shouldn’t we be looking at it from a different angle and asking what are we doing with the skills we already have?

Industry and Government have taken pro-active steps over recent years to fight the looming skills shortfall within the UK manufacturing sector. However, there is still concern that we are going to face a real setback in terms of engineering advancement and productivity, if we are unable to find a solution to what is a long standing problem.

The number of engineering apprenticeships is double what they were a decade ago. The volume of students taking AS level STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects has risen by a third in the same time frame. Equally, the number of applications for higher education courses is on the increase. So why do engineering businesses still find significant problems when recruiting at all levels within their organisations?


At graduate level; engineering degrees vary drastically, and some are exceptionally niche. This can result in the graduate only applying for specific roles that may be seen as a continuation of their studies.

A Controls & Instrumentation graduate is likely to be very precise in their approach and preclude themselves from wider opportunities, even within engineering. Whereas those who study Business, Economics or other Social Sciences are less restricted, therefore increasing their chances to enter the working population.

If graduates are being too specific in their job search, employers can be equally accused of being too explicit in their requirements. Businesses must recognise that they need to recruit graduates based on potential, aptitude and desire. It is then their responsibility to train the skill.

If a graduate has demonstrated the ability to succeed within their chosen discipline, businesses should be sufficiently confident in their own training and development, that they are able to educate irrespective of the engineering specialism.


This mismatch within the demand and supply of skills does not only occur at graduate level, it can be a trend that follows throughout all levels of an organisation. Since 2008/9, there has been very little appetite for risk across many sectors, including the UK manufacturing. In this case, businesses are avoiding it entirely in their hiring process. Why the reluctance to hire experienced engineers, who would require additional investment to align their skills with a new employer?

We rarely see businesses willing to back themselves to invest their resources in this way. They are inclined to play a waiting game to find the ideal applicant, but are not necessarily prepared to pay the premium required for their skill set. Often leaving critical positions open for far longer than necessary. What impact does this have on productivity?

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