Over the past few years, there has been much debate within the engineering community over a perceived skills gap. Employers are eager to hire but claim they can’t find engineers with the specific skills and expertise they require.
The severity of this problem has been a particular point of contention. Some claim it is severe and point to it as evidence of the bleak future of American engineering. Others claim that it is overstated, misunderstood, and simply a temporary after effect of the economic downturn.
A recent survey conducted by researchers at MIT helps to shed some light on the reality of the situation. It reveals that the engineering skills gap is not as bad as many have claimed, but the gaps that do exist are consequential, and could get worse in the near future.
The researchers surveyed managers at 900 manufacturing plants, and conducted on-site interviews at some. The respondents reported that for most positions, and particularly those at the entry and mid-levels, managers have little problem finding applicants with all or most of the skills they require. They don’t point to employment issues as any serious impediment to the success of their operations.
What was alarming, however, is that the researchers did uncover a significant skills gap in smaller, more specialized and innovative companies. The engineers they employ must typically have a broader and deeper skill set. But since these are smaller firms with fewer financial resources and fewer connections to higher education, they are struggling to find or attract the professionals they need.
This problem might seem insignificant, but these small innovative firms are exactly the ones that push the engineering economy forward and keep the industry as a whole growing and vibrant. Minor setbacks now could easily grow into major problems in the near future.
Another cause for alarm is the large number of retirements forecasted in coming years, further draining expertise and experience from the ranks of available engineers. As many as a fifth of currently employed engineers are over 55, and when they leave and take their high-tech skills with them, the generation of up and coming engineers may not be equipped to replace their contribution.
The researchers conclude by advocating for a closer relationship between small manufacturers, colleges and universities, and business advocates like the Chamber of Commerce. By making a concerted and strategic effort, the researchers claim, engineers just entering the workforce can acquire the high-tech skills that advanced manufacturers increasingly require.
This report highlights the importance of staffing strategically. If you are not actively working to train up the next generation of engineers, and actively taking steps to prepare for retirements, your ability to innovate and operate will be severely compromised. If you are struggling to overcome a skills gap, or simply hoping to avoid the effects of one in the future, partner with the recruitment specialists at Selectek.