Only 7% of engineering companies in the UK with a sustainability strategy say they have the skills needed to fulfil it, a survey by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has revealed. The survey, which looks at the skills engineering employers need to meet 2050 net-zero targets, uncovers that only half (53%) of UK engineering firms think net zero by 2050 is achievable for them.
When considering who should be accountable for tackling climate change, businesses think the majority of responsibility lies with national Government (25%), followed by business and industry (20%). Over half (56%) are doubtful that achieving net zero in the UK by 2050 is possible.
When addressing skills, one in two engineering firms state they are currently experiencing skills gaps (46%), with most choosing to upskill/retrain existing employees (47%) or hire new employees with those skills (44%). It’s less common for them to recruit apprentices/graduates and provide training, although this is still an action taken by roughly a third (32%).
The economic impact of COVID-19 has however seen a shift in priorities. Twelve months ago, increasing profitability was the top priority for businesses (50%). This has been replaced by the wellbeing of their staff (68%) and dealing with economic changes/uncertainty (68%). Recruiting staff with new skills is currently the lowest priority for engineering employers (35%, compared to 38% 12 months ago) and this continues to be the case in their expectations for one year from now (35%), however, employers will need to start addressing this in order to rebuild the economy post-COVID.
On hiring new recruits, 43% of engineering employers agree that university graduates don’t have the necessary skills needed to work in their industry. However, there are also concerns over the apprentices that enter the engineering industry. Over a third (38%) of employers agree that apprentices don’t understand the realities of work in their industry and that they don’t have the necessary technical skills (34%).
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. We now need to consider the economic impact this will have on furthering the UK’s sustainability agenda and our collective ability to achieve net-zero targets by 2050.”
The IET’s ‘Skills for net zero and a green recovery’ report shows that only (55%) of engineering employers have a sustainability strategy that has specific activities and goals. Of those with a sustainability strategy, two thirds (67%) say it’s integrated into their overall business strategy.
The report also looks at the type of skills that were lacking in new recruits. Employers are divided as to what type of skills their organisation will need in order to deliver their sustainability strategy, with equal proportions citing the need for innovative thinking (62%), management strategic skills (60%), and agility skills (60%).
Stephanie added: “The majority of employers think their engineering and technical staff will need more skills and knowledge to respond to the changes being made to lower their environmental impact.
"Therefore, it will be highly important for these engineering employers to be able to effectively address their skills gaps, particularly looking at digital skills and complex problem solving. Employers should also be flexible in their expectations of young people leaving education who may have missed out on key training and practical opportunities caused by lockdown.
“It’s disappointing to see there is still a low perception to the quality of young people entering the engineering sector. We believe by improving the understanding of the net-zero challenge we face; we will be able to create work ready recruits that understand the importance of sustainability and ability to tackle problems that don’t yet have a known solution.
“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.”
The report details ten recommendations for education, government and policy and skills which include greater collaboration to improve work-readiness of recruits, improve the understanding of the net-zero challenge and building a more flexible and dynamic workforce.