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Foreign engineers coming to the UK jumps by 36% as skills shortages deepen

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The number of non-EU engineers coming to the UK to address acute skill shortages has jumped by 36% over the past year, as the supply of specialised engineers fails to keep up with rising demand. This comes from data obtained by SJD Accountancy, the UK’s leading contractor services provider.

The official Home Office figures show that 1,171 engineers from non-EU countries entered the UK in 2013/14, up from 859 in 2012/13, the biggest rise since the recession began in 2008.

The numbers refer to work permits issued to non-EU engineers filling roles listed on the National Shortage Occupation list, which is maintained by the Home Office. Candidates sponsored by employers on the National Shortage Occupation list can obtain a work permit under a ‘fast track’ scheme. Engineering occupations on the list include civil engineers, mechanical engineers and electrical engineers.

SJD Accountancy says that many more engineers are being sourced overseas than those sponsored for jobs on the UK National Shortage Occupation list. The shortage list is, however, a statistically important measure of demand for engineering skills across the board, as well as for specific areas of high priority.

Derek Kelly, Chief Executive Officer of SJD Accountancy, comments: “Skill shortages are an ongoing worry in the engineering sector, but despite widespread awareness of the severity of the issue, little progress is being made.”

“These numbers show that investment in infrastructure, which the Government has earmarked for significant expansion over the coming decades, is at risk if the UK is unable to match demand for engineering skills. Skill shortages cause delays and push up costs for contractors.”

He adds: “The recession provided some breathing space for employers and the Government to address the chronic underproduction of engineering skills in the UK. However, we are still seeing too many UK-trained engineers choosing other careers or leaving the country after they have qualified.”

SJD Accountancy points out that spending on infrastructure projects, which heavily utilise engineering skills, has risen from around £41 billion annually 2005-10 to £45 billion annually 2011-13. The National Infrastructure Plan (NIP), which was announced by the Government last December, plans to spend £375 billion on infrastructure projects up to 2030 and beyond. This will pile further pressure on the UK’s engineering talent pool at a time when the supply of skills is already struggling to cope with demand.

Derek Kelly concludes: “With the Government determined to increase expenditure on major infrastructure projects, the holes in the UK’s engineering skills base are being brutally exposed. Just 8.5% of engineers are women – the lowest in the EU – so there is clearly much more that could be done to promote engineering careers in the UK and reduce our dependence on foreign skills.” 

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