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A Major Report Reveals a Global Engineer Skills Shortage

March 30, 2020 by Luke James

The report, commissioned by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) and Lloyd’s Register Foundation, describes how this shortage could put the safety of workers at risk.

Put together by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the Global Engineering Capability Review (GECR) measures the abilities of 99 countries to carry out core engineering activities in a safe and innovative way. 

The GECR focuses on six different measures of worldwide engineering capability: the strength and sophistication of the country’s engineering industry, the availability and diversity of its engineering labour force, its knowledge base, built and digital infrastructure and safety standards.

It was commissioned as part of Engineering X, a new international collaboration that aims to bring together some of the world’s foremost tech leaders, engineers, and problem-solvers to address today’s greatest challenges. 


The UK is Lagging Behind

According to the report, the UK features in the top ten countries of only two categories—knowledge and safety standards. In contrast, Singapore features in the top ten in five of the six categories. This, according to the report, means that the UK is lagging behind and points the finger at a lack of suitably skilled engineers.

Identifying the root cause of this shortage will be key if the UK is to see improvements in other areas. Some observers believe that short-term permanent employment, skills gaps due to the “older generation” of engineers retiring to other areas, and low salaries in certain engineering sectors—influenced by the availability of cheap overseas labour, particularly in sectors such as building services—could be to blame.


Addressing the Capability Gaps

The UK is not the only country with a significant skills gap. In fact, it is a global problem, and the GECR aims to provide a baseline to enable policymakers, educators, and business leaders understand their country’s engineering strengths and to address sills gaps that are barriers to sustainable development. 

The report highlights two recommendations. 


Map of countries reviewed as conducting engineering in safe and innovative manner.

Global map identifying countries featured in the GECR. Image Credit: The Economist Intelligence Unit.


Strengthen the Evidence Base

First, it explains that many countries struggle to collect and report accurate data across several indicators that could support safe and innovative engineering. By implementing best practice survey methodology and through the better use of survey technology, collection and reporting accuracy could be greatly enhanced. 

Furthermore, by collecting data through labour force surveys, firms will find it easier to categorise an “engineer” and identify the skills required for a given role, improving transparency and making skills simpler to eliminate.


Focus on Quality

Of the 99 countries investigated by the report, a pattern of quantity over quality was discovered—and countries often face problems with producing adequately trained, high-quality engineers because of this. 

To ensure adequate availability of skilled engineering talent, institutions should develop interdisciplinary curricula and alternative education models that utilise project-based learning as these provide students with real-world, hands-on engineering experience which is priceless. On a more global scale, transnational collaboration should be encouraged to develop international certifications that both facilitate and encourage professional mobility.  


A Complex Challenge

Engineering X, which was launched at the beginning of March to coincide with the celebration of the inaugural UN World Engineering Day for sustainable development, aims to build a global partnership which will tackle the most pressing issues in engineering, such as safety and sustainability. 

According to Professor Peter Goodhew from Engineering X, addressing the problems that the report highlights present a complex challenge. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach and countries struggle to address all the factors that can contribute to engineering strength and to develop a pipeline of engineering talent that will match their growing and diverse needs,” he said. 

As launch partners of Engineering X, the RAEng and Lloyd’s Register Foundation commissioned the study to highlight how engineering practices can be improved and the role that they play in solving the world’s biggest problems. 

“Engineers in countries around the world can support human livelihood and dignity, the improvement of systems and the avoidance of harm,” said Professor Richard Clegg, chief executive of Lloyd’s Register Foundation.

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