Is the global science and engineering shortage just a myth?
We’ve all heard about the engineering shortage in the media, the urgency to qualify more people in science and engineering and the calls for investment into encouraging the future generation into these industries. Claims of industry shortages are nothing new. It seems after a recession comes concern for a lack of workers with the right skillset for industry demands. However, for some countries such as the UK, the aftermath of the economic recession has finally seen the engineering industry go from strength to strength; currently, unemployment is at its lowest in six years and wages are rising above the rate of inflation at 1.8%.
In contrast to this, reports from President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology claim that in the next decade, one million additional engineers will be needed to deal with the demands of the industry. This has been backed up with investments in training at least 100,000 additional STEM teachers by 2020. The United States is not the only country falling under the spell of the global shortage myth, with new ‘blue card’ visas being introduced in the EU to bring in skilled overseas workers to keep up with demands.
Although these appear to be dramatic changes, research by the National Bureau of Economic Research has shown no evidence of market shortages, but a lack of specific skills for the needs of individual countries. According to Hays, 88% of mechanical engineering companies in the UK in 2014 employed staff from other countries, 42% had done so due to a lack of relevant skills from UK engineers and 28% due to the quality of education overseas. On the other hand, mechanical engineers in the UK are very aware of their highly regarded training elsewhere. Although 69% believe there are enough jobs in the UK, 17% feel their work is not recognised and over half would consider work in another country, even if the salary was less. So with UK companies hiring more overseas and UK workers taking opportunities elsewhere, it seems the industry has a mismatch of talent versus demands.
There are key factors which are causing this mismatch of talent, not only in the UK but worldwide. In Eastern Europe and Brazil an aging population is a key issue with increasing retirements from the most experienced engineers. Developing countries such as Namibia and Uganda are struggling to hire in leadership roles, and there is a lack of proficient English speakers worldwide making communication an issue.
So the global engineering shortage may not be a complete myth after all. While there is an increase of engineers overall worldwide, there is strong evidence for a mismatch of science and engineering talent in each country that is disrupting the industries.