Is UK engineering facing a skills crisis?

More than a third of UK engineers fear a skills crisis in their industry – with recruitment issues already costing UK STEM businesses £1.5bn a year.

New research by MPA, a professional business services company supporting UK innovation, surveyed 250 UK experts in the sector on the biggest challenges facing engineering.

The study questioned them on key issues, and explored perceptions around the sector’s approach to innovation.

With wider research already showing the massive financial drain which a lack of STEM skills is having on UK business, it is perhaps unsurprising that 37% of respondents cited the issue as the biggest challenge facing contemporary engineering.

Other common worries included automation (22%), development of new materials (17%), data usage (10%) and cybersecurity (4%).

The research also reveals that businesses are missing out on potential funding opportunities.

Some 56% claim that their company doesn’t tap into sources of R&D funding or support, such as Innovate UK, crowdfunding or Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

The research also found one in five (21%) innovation-active engineering firms are not taking advantage of the government’s R&D Tax Credit scheme, which allows companies to claim back up to 33p for every £1 spent on R&D activity.

On average, engineering companies invest £386,000 a year on R&D activity, meaning they are potentially able to claim £100,360 in funding.

With over 100,000 UK engineering firms not claiming, despite describing their company as innovation-active, a staggering £10.2bn is going unclaimed each year.

Reasons for not claiming the funding vary, but the most common answer given by engineers is that they don’t believe their companies are eligible (10%).

Nigel Urquhart, Senior Technical Analyst at MPA, said: “Engineering companies in the UK are respected all over the world for their quality and innovation, but we need to ensure that as an industry we are recruiting the best and brightest minds into roles across the sector.

“STEM education and training support are vital for making sure the UK’s economy continues to thrive and will play a key part in ensuring the UK reaches the current government target of 2.4% of GDP being spent on R&D by 2027.

“The UK is currently lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to innovation, research and development, and this could be because so many eligible companies are not utilising the financial support available.

“Initiatives like the R&D Tax Credit scheme allow businesses to free up vital funds that can be used to fund further innovation, which could help ensure UK engineering stays at the forefront of the industry.”