Survey finds UK engineering companies lack skills to meet net zero target

Article by Amanda Doyle

A SURVEY by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has found that 93% of engineering employers think that their staff don’t have the necessary skills to meet sustainability goals.

The Skills for net zero and a green recovery report surveyed 1,010 senior decision makers from UK companies that employ engineering and technology staff. Companies needed to have a minimum of six employees and at least one member of staff in engineering or technology. The survey looked at the skills needed to reach the UK target of net zero by 2050, the impact of Covid-19, recruitment difficulties, and the engineering skills gap.

The report found that 85% of engineering employers are aware of the UK’s target to be net zero by 2050, with 53% thinking that the target is achievable for their organisation. However only 37% think that the UK as a whole will be net zero by 2050. Employers think that national governments have the greatest responsibility to address the climate crisis, followed by business and industry. The report noted that this highlighted a need for the Government and businesses to work together.

Just over half of employers have a sustainability strategy, with large employers more likely to have one. However, only 7% of employers think that their workforce already has the skills needed to implement a sustainability strategy. The skills cited for delivering a sustainability strategy include innovative thinking, management strategic skills, and ability to adapt. To address this, 60% of organisations said they would retrain current employees, 38% said they would hire new staff, and 31% said they would automate tasks.

On current workforce needs, 47% said they had difficulties with skills available in the external market, and 46% said there were skills gaps in their workforce. Engineering is the area with the greatest skills gaps, followed by production/manufacturing, and IT skills. To address skills gaps, 47% said they would retrain employees and 44% said they would recruit new ones.  

Employers reporting recruitment difficulties say that 48% of applicants lack technical skills, and 37% of applicants lack relevant work experience. It was also felt that soft skills such as team-working and time management were lacking. 43% of organisations felt that university graduates lack the skills needed for the industry, and 34% said apprentices lack technical skills needed.

Stephanie Baxter, IET Skills and Innovation Lead, said: “To deliver on the UK’s net-zero challenge, the standout issue with recruitment is a lack of people with the right specialist skills or knowledge, and this poses a huge risk to advancing our green recovery.”

“This is coupled with a huge change in business priorities as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Whilst only 7% of businesses with a green recovery strategy say they have the right skills needed to fulfil it, recruitment overall at this time is their lowest priority.”

The report makes recommendations on how to tackle the issues raised by the survey. It suggests that more collaboration is needed between industry and educators to ensure people have the skills necessary to work in industry, and more work experience should be provided by industries. The report called for a green post-pandemic recovery with the Government providing long-term planning and a guaranteed skills investment through future governments. On skills, the report said that industry should prioritise reskilling its existing workforce so that specialist skills aren’t overlooked.  

Baxter said: “The responsibility to reduce the impact on the climate rests on all of us and industry, government and educators now need to collaborate to identify and deliver the essential skills needed to deliver a fit for purpose workforce to achieve our net-zero targets.”

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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