Skills shortages, big tech layoffs and rising engineering salaries

What career did your old school have in mind for you? Younger readers may well have been told about IT or engineering but I’ll bet fewer of our older readers were. Did your careers advisor even know what engineering is – what it really is. And that’s not the technician from the phone company who comes to fix your router, or the gas rep who comes to fix your boiler.      

As part of our skills special, we asked some industry figures now famous for engineering or technology what they were advised at school and got some surprising answers. “Window dresser,” said one, “zoo keeper,” said another. I was pretty good at maths so I was advised on a career in, yes, you guessed it, accountancy. Careers advice was far from imaginative in those days although to be fair some of my classmates were told about and did pursue engineering.

Schools are so much better than they were in so many ways and I’d hope that careers advice has become more thoughtful and better informed than it was 40 years ago. From what I can see it’s still very patchy. Our boys pursued STEM subjects into university. They knew about engineering from me if nowhere else but to my surprise through the school they had a lot more encouragement from the finance industry, a little from cyber security but virtually nothing from engineering companies.

I’ve sometimes heard our industry complaining about the talent it loses to the City, but you have to ask why. How is it better at attracting that talent? Does it have a better image? Or is it just easier to grasp? Then there’s the elephant in the room. When the big band leader Duke Ellington was once asked how he had managed to get so many talented musicians to stick with him for so long he explained: “There is nothing to keeping a band together. You simply have to have a gimmick, and the gimmick I use is to pay them money.”

The IET’s skills survey finds skills getting scarcer, it identifies the worst areas and finds salaries on the rise. But if you want the best maybe you have to pay better. I’m being devil’s advocate here but that’s what we set out to do with this issue. We frequently get letters from readers asking ‘skills crisis – what skills crisis?’ and ‘how come my daughter/son/niece/nephew/friend can’t get a job despite having exactly the qualifications everyone is said to be seeking?’. We can tell individual experiences often don’t match the bigger picture. What’s going wrong? Are there solutions out there we just haven’t spotted yet?

We’ve known for decades, perhaps generations, that we don’t have enough talent coming through and that pipeline problem starts in schools – or with parents. It starts young, anyway. In this issue we look at the latest thinking about solutions to that perennial problem.

What more could be done to encourage young people into eng, tech or their own part of it, from manufacturing to cyber security? Unfortunately, increasing that pipeline takes time – too much time for today’s pace of technology. We need to fix the leaks of those leaving the industry – particularly women but also LGBTQ+ and others. And recruitment processes need to stop discriminating against neurodiversity.

The post-pandemic ‘big resign’ is everywhere but especially among older employees, who too often feel neglected. Companies should be reskilling existing workers as well as finding new ones. It could also be attracting and retraining people from other industries. Remember the controversial lockdown government ad about ballet dancers? Helena Pozniak meets those who have made the leap from the arts into technology.

Were you advised away from ballet at school? Or from engineering? Let us know what career your school had in mind for you.

Graphic of careers advice sources

Image credit: E&T

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