In the landscape of our robust economy, engineering has long been one of the cornerstone industries driving growth and innovation. It plays an integral role in virtually every aspect of our daily lives, from the infrastructures we depend on to the technology we can't live without. Yet, as we stride forward into an increasingly technologically-driven future, a looming challenge casts a shadow over this vital industry: a significant shortage of skilled engineering professionals.

 

As an Associate Director at Hunter Savage, specialising in Engineering and Operations recruitment across the island of Ireland north and south, I have had a front-row seat to this unfolding narrative. Despite the undeniable demand for engineering skills across various sectors, including manufacturing, FMCG, construction, supply chain & logistics, we are facing a dearth of the very talent we so urgently need.

 

The effects of this skills shortage are far-reaching, impacting not only engineering firms but also Ireland's broader economic health and growth potential. It's an issue that requires our immediate attention and a commitment to a strategic and sustained response. Through this article, I aim to shed light on the current state of the engineering skills shortage in Ireland, dissect its causes, and probe its implications, while proposing viable solutions based on my experience and observations in the recruitment industry.

 

Understanding the Skill Shortage in Engineering

Before we dive deeper into the discussion, it's crucial to understand what constitutes a skills shortage. Essentially, a skills shortage arises when the demand for a specific skill-set exceeds the supply of professionals equipped with these skills. This imbalance can result in operational challenges for businesses, stifle innovation, and even affect the broader economy.

 

In the context of the Irish engineering sector, the skills shortage isn't a monolithic issue but manifests in the lack of specific in-demand skills. Some of the skills that are currently seeing a high demand, but a low supply include:

 

Project Management: Project managers who possess a firm understanding of engineering principles are in high demand across various sectors. They play a crucial role in ensuring projects are completed on time, within budget, and meet the set quality standards.

 

Data Analysis: In an era where data is king, the ability to analyse, interpret, and utilise data effectively is highly sought after. Engineers with data analysis skills can provide valuable insights that help businesses make informed decisions.

 

Automation Engineering and IT Skills: As industries become increasingly digitised, the need for engineers with automation and IT skills continues to grow. This includes skills in coding, system design, and understanding various software tools.

 

Sustainability and Green Engineering: With growing focus on sustainability and combating climate change, there is a rising demand for engineers who specialise in developing and implementing eco-friendly and sustainable engineering solutions.

 

Specialised Technical Skills: Depending on the industry sector, there's a demand for engineers with highly specialised technical skills, for example, automation, mechatronic and highly skilled maintenance engineers across a range of sectors.

 

Understanding these specific skill gaps is the first step towards formulating effective strategies to address the engineering skills shortage in Ireland.

 

The Causes of the Engineering Skills Shortage

The engineering skills shortage in Ireland is a complex issue, shaped by numerous factors ranging from changing career interests among young people to evolving needs within the industry itself.

- Shift in Career Interests

The past decade has witnessed a notable shift in the career aspirations of young people in Ireland. There's a discernible trend towards digital technology sectors, with many viewing them as the 'jobs of the future'. The burgeoning tech industry in Dublin, sometimes referred to as the 'Silicon Docks', has certainly played a part in drawing talent away from traditional engineering fields. The result is a growing number of students pursuing degrees in computer science and IT, while interest in engineering degrees appears to be waning.  Whilst there is less people completing engineering degrees, the level of transferable skills from IT courses is apparent especially when recruiting for  automation, mechatronic and maintenance engineering roles.

- Role of the Education System

The education system is a significant player in the creation of future engineers. However, it seems there is a disconnect between the skills being taught in academic institutions and the evolving needs of the industry. Curricula often lag behind the rapid pace of innovation, leading to a gap between the capabilities of recent graduates and the expectations of employers seeking specialised skills.

- Industry Factors

Several industry-specific factors further compound the issue. For instance, the engineering sector has been grappling with high turnover rates, as professionals hop between jobs in search of better opportunities. This lack of stability hinders the growth of a robust, long-term workforce.

 

As many companies experience growth across manufacturing, FMCG and construction, they need to adapt their operations accordingly.  At Hunter Savage we are seeing more and more maintenance and design engineers avoiding roles in organisations that operate 24hrs due to the shift patterns.  Candidates are more likely to apply to positions with standard working hours as opposed to night shifts.

 

Couple this with the wave of retirements from seasoned engineers, and you're left with a sizable gap in both skills and experience. These departing professionals take with them years, sometimes decades, of knowledge, leaving a void that's challenging to fill.

 

Lastly, the industry’s increasing need for specialisation, be it in areas like green engineering, data analysis or automation, creates a demand for expertise that the current workforce may not possess.

 

Implications of the Engineering Skills Shortage

The repercussions of the engineering skills shortage aren’t confined to the engineering sector alone, they ripple across the broader Irish economy, threatening to stifle growth and impede competitiveness.

 

- Impact on the Engineering Sector

Within the engineering sector itself, the skills shortage has led to a variety of operational challenges. The scarcity of skilled professionals often results in increased project costs, as companies have to pay a premium to attract and retain talent. Furthermore, with fewer skilled engineers to drive projects, delays become more commonplace.

More critically, a lack of skilled professionals stifles innovation. In an industry where progress is powered by the continuous evolution and application of new ideas, this can have long-term implications. For instance, the absence of engineers with specialised skills in sustainability and green technology could slow down Ireland's transition to a low-carbon economy.
 

- Wider Impact on the Economy

The impact of the engineering skills shortage on the wider Irish economy should not be underestimated. Engineering serves as a foundation for many other sectors, including manufacturing, construction, and technology. Therefore, a shortfall in engineering talent can limit growth across these sectors and the economy as a whole.

 

Furthermore, the skills shortage could potentially undermine Ireland's competitive position on the global stage. In a world where technological innovation is a key driver of competitiveness, a lack of engineering talent can put Ireland at a disadvantage.

 

Dealing with Counter Offers: A Temporary Solution?

With the scarcity of skilled engineers in Ireland reaching critical levels, counter-offers have become a common tactic used by organisations to retain their top talent. However, the effectiveness and sustainability of this strategy warrant further examination.

- The Rise of Counter Offers

A counter offer typically occurs when an employee decides to leave their job, and the current employer offers improved terms or conditions to persuade them to stay. The engineering skills shortage has fuelled the prevalence of this practice, as employers scramble to keep their skilled employees from joining competitors or switching sectors.

- The Pros and Cons of Counter Offers

From an employer's perspective, counter offers can be seen as a necessary evil. They can stop the immediate loss of an employee, preventing project delays and saving on the cost and time of hiring a replacement. However, they are often reactive, not proactive, measures that don't address the root causes of employee dissatisfaction or the broader skills shortage.

 

Additionally, they can inadvertently create a culture where employees feel they need to resign to get a raise or promotion, which is not conducive to long-term staff retention or satisfaction.

 

From an employee's point of view, a counter offer may be flattering and financially rewarding in the short term. However, it's worth considering why such an offer was only made upon their resignation. Employees should also be aware that studies have shown that a high percentage of those who accept counter offers end up leaving the company within a year, either because the underlying issues weren't resolved, or the relationship with the employer was strained by the resignation.

 

The Visa Route: A Viable Option?

Given the mounting challenges of the engineering skills shortage, some companies have started to look beyond Ireland's borders to find the talent they need. By exploring international talent pools, they hope to fill gaps and foster diversity in their workforce. However, like counter-offers, the visa route also has its nuances that need to be carefully considered.

- Looking Internationally to Fill Skills Gaps

With a dwindling supply of home-grown engineers, there's a growing inclination among Irish firms to tap into the international talent market. This involves offering skilled worker visas to foreign professionals, thus enabling them to work in Ireland.

 

This strategy has several benefits. First, it provides a wider pool of potential candidates with the required skills. Second, it can bring in fresh perspectives and experiences, contributing to an enriched, diverse work environment.

- Assessment of the Effectiveness and Potential Challenges

However, recruiting internationally isn't without its challenges. From an administrative standpoint, the process of securing work visas can be complex and time-consuming, with no guaranteed outcome.

 

Furthermore, there's the issue of retention. While foreign workers can fill immediate gaps, there's the question of how long these professionals will stay in Ireland. The nature of visa restrictions means these workers could be less likely to put down roots and more likely to move to another opportunity once their visa expires or if they get a better offer elsewhere.

 

Lastly, while employing foreign workers addresses the immediate need for skills, it is a reactive rather than a proactive approach. It doesn't solve the fundamental issue of why Ireland isn't producing enough engineering graduates, nor does it guarantee a long-term solution to the skills shortage.

 

Addressing the Skills Shortage: Potential Solutions

Addressing the engineering skills shortage in Ireland will not be a quick fix; it requires a comprehensive, long-term strategy that involves various stakeholders. Here are some potential solutions that could play a part in tackling this challenge.

- Promoting Engineering to Younger Generations

One approach is to make a concerted effort to promote engineering as a viable and attractive career path to younger generations. This involves not only showcasing the financial and developmental benefits of a career in engineering but also highlighting the diverse roles engineers play in shaping our society – from developing sustainable energy solutions to designing innovative products and infrastructure.

- Enhancing the Role of Educational Institutions

Educational institutions play a pivotal role in producing skilled engineers. There's a need to ensure that they are offering courses that align with industry needs. For example, with the rise of digital technology, there's an increasing demand for engineers with skills in areas like automation, data analysis, and mechatronic.

 

Furthermore, educational institutions can consider more robust engagement with industry professionals. This could mean offering more practical, hands-on experiences, industry placements, or bringing professionals into the classroom to provide real-world insights.

- Industry Initiatives and Partnerships

The engineering industry itself also has a role to play. Companies can look into implementing mentorship programs, providing continuous learning opportunities, and fostering a culture that values and invests in employee development.

 

Partnerships between companies and educational institutions could also be beneficial. These partnerships could allow companies to provide input into the curriculum, ensuring students are learning relevant, up-to-date skills, and provide students with work placement opportunities.

- The Role of Specialist Recruitment Consultancies

This is where specialist recruitment consultancies like Hunter Savage can help. With our deep sector insight and connections, we can work closely with both employers and candidates to help bridge the skills gap.

 

For employers, we can provide access to high-quality, relevant candidates and help them navigate the complexities of the current job market. For candidates, we can offer guidance and opportunities for career progression within the engineering industry.

 

In conclusion, addressing the engineering skills shortage in Ireland requires a multi-faceted approach that involves promotion of the sector, enhancing education, implementing industry initiatives, and leveraging the expertise of specialist recruitment consultancies.

Conclusion

In this blog, we've unravelled the complexities of the engineering skills shortage in Ireland. This multifaceted issue requires a joint effort from educational institutions, industry bodies, recruitment consultancies like Hunter Savage, and the engineers themselves.

 

Educational bodies need to match the industry's evolving demands, while companies can foster a culture of continuous learning. For professionals and aspirants in engineering, the skills shortage signals significant opportunities for those ready to harness them.

 

At Hunter Savage, our specialisation lies in bridging the gap between these opportunities and the right candidates. For employers, we offer access to a curated talent pool, and for candidates, we provide the roadmap for career progression.

 

The path to resolving the engineering skills shortage may be complex, but it is achievable with collaborative effort. If you're an employer seeking solutions, or an engineer planning your next move, reach out to us at Hunter Savage. Let's explore how we can navigate this landscape together.

 

For more information, contact Conor O’Hagan, Associate Director, Engineering & Operations

Email: conor@huntersavage.com

Belfast Mobile: +447803790859

Dublin Mobile: +353851849510

 

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