There have been numerous reports in the last couple of years on this topic, illustrating that a present and future shortage of engineers is very much on the agenda of national governments, sectoral organisations and private companies. This is not surprising as countries and companies are highly dependent on technical personnel, for example, in civil engineering (to maintain and improve infrastructure) or the various engineering domains in the manufacturing industry.
According to the recruiting agency Gobrightwing, this shortage could lead to a potential loss of USD 454 billion in the United States alone. There are also other challenges such as keeping civil infrastructure up and running and addressing critical societal challenges. Examples include facilitating an energy transition or developing viable processes for recycling.
It would go too far to address this issue on a global level as various parameters – economies/industries, demographics, educational systems and geographies – all have an impact on the supply and demand of engineers/technical personnel.
Therefore, this article focuses on three large economies – the US, United Kingdom and Germany. This choice is also motivated by the relative abundance of data generated on this issue.
To begin with, let’s look at the general picture. In 2017, a comprehensive report titled 2017: Create the Future was published which focused on the UK but also targeted nine other major economies to address supply-demand and other issues. One of the significant findings was that five countries – UK, USA, China, Germany and South Africa – experienced a mismatch in supply-demand in skilled engineers. The good ‘news’ is that the public perception of engineers is positive.
In an era where trust in some professions is diminishing, the role of engineers is valued highly, partly also because of the aforementioned societal challenges. “Engineers are seen as having as much influence as politicians in solving major world challenges,” according to the report.
Time to zoom in on particular countries/geographies. The United Kingdom struggles with getting the right engineers for the right jobs. A survey from 2019 from the temp agency Randstad states that the sector “faces a skills crisis like never before, and measures need to be taken to help the leaders of the engineering industry fill the jobs that are integral to the field”.
According to another study by the UK government, 186,000 skilled recruits per year would be needed until 2024 to fill the gaps. Within the EU, there are various bottlenecks in different engineering fields. Depending on the country and engineering domain, there are more or less urgent issues. Shortages in software/ IT are among the highest; in mechanical, electrical and civil engineering it is still challenging to fill the gaps but this doesn’t mean it is less pressing.
Nationwide shortage in Germany
In Germany, one of the manufacturing powerhouses in the world, the engineering skill shortage is already noticeable. According to a recent study by the German federal government, this shortage will increase in the coming decades. By 2030, a shortage of 3 million ‘skilled workers’ is expected in Germany (Source: Prognos).
Skills shortage is now the most significant concern of German businesses according to a recent economic survey by the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce. In particular, highly qualified engineers, technicians, researchers, medical and other similar professionals are needed.
The recent skill-shortage analyses, dating back to 2017 drawn up by the Bundesagentur für Arbeit, states a nationwide shortage of engineers in the areas of software development, programming, metal construction, aerospace and automobile, mechatronics and construction. This gap is going to be hard to fill for small and medium sized enterprises in particular. Those companies are already having difficulties in recruiting skilled workers as they are limited to the local labour market.