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    Getting the right skills in place

    Getting the right skills in place

    Maintenance Engineering Report 2023

    Getting the right skills in place

    Maintenance engineering, in common with other professions, has a problem attracting and retaining people with the right skills. But the answer is not just about recruitment – developing and training your staff is the key to a successful future, and outsourcing can help too.

    Of the 683 UK & Ireland engineers responding to our survey, almost half of them said attracting and retaining talent was as pressing as inflation and ranking ahead of supply chain interruptions.

    They told us that it was hard to attract people with the right qualifications and experience to be able to get to work immediately, adding that the talent shortage was inhibiting their ability to expand the size of their team to meet rising demand.

    Asked to describe their biggest challenge, one said simply: “Finding skilled people.” Another added: “Engineering skills, recruitment and retention.” While one individual was clear about what they saw as the root cause of the problem: “We're not educating the type of people needed,” they said.

    That’s not a view shared by maintenance engineering academic Dr Moray Kidd. He says the number of engineering students in universities remains strong and they are people with high-calibre skills.

    “I see there’s a real interest in maintenance engineering, which was always a hard sell historically. The whole industry 4.0 revolution has re-energised young people within the discipline of maintenance engineering, specifically,” he says

    However, he accepts that not all of his best graduates use their degrees to go into maintenance engineering. “Sadly, we lose a lot of our great young engineers to the City. I was talking to one recently who’s more than likely going to graduate with a first and go into finance.”

    Dr Kidd says that the number of women electing to study engineering remains low, which he describes as a real challenge for the future. “I would be delighted to have a much more balanced cohort going through,” he adds. Inspiring young people through engineering role models will help redress the balance, he believes.

    Inspiring the next generation

    That’s a view shared by Lydia Amarquaye, Professional Development and Education Policy Adviser at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). She says it is doing exactly what Kidd advocates and taking the message about engineering into schools.

    “We need to explain what engineers do,” she says. “There is a lack of understanding of what an engineer is and that’s one of the first things we need to address. We’re trying to do a lot of outreach activities and just present engineering to young people.”

    It’s also important to explain that there are different routes into the profession, she adds. Apprenticeships need to be emphasised and industry itself has a role to play in getting this information out there to young people.

    “We have very large STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) ambassador networks where we spend our time going into schools to explain what engineering is and to promote the profession,” she explains.

    IMechE runs a virtual work experience programme in the school holidays to help young people understand more about the areas of engineering they could work in. “Engineering isn’t just about cars and planes,” she adds. “Think about energy or electrification. We don’t just promote the traditional ways, but the new technologies.”

    That will be music to the ears of one of our respondents, who said they were not just looking to recruit people with basic engineering skills. “We are adopting data analytics to determine the inspection frequency. We need people with competency between conventional engineering (mechanical, electrical, etc) and data analytics,” they said.

    Other respondents emphasised the need to develop existing maintenance engineers as well as train new entrants. One said: “We need to train maintenance staff to be flexible in their skills and talents.” Others spoke of the importance of upskilling and developing new competencies.

    Consultants Deloitte say recruitment and retention should be treated as a single process, from creating an attractive job profile for maintenance engineers when recruiting, to giving them recognition for the work they do and providing development to help them learn new skills.

    To outsource, or not to outsource?

    But what if you really cannot find anyone with specialist skills to join your team? Should you outsource the work? Deloitte says it should never be just about cutting costs. “Whilst there is no magic bullet, a combination of common sense, a structured approach and learning from others’ experiences will go a long way,” say the consultants.

    Richard Jeffers, Managing Director of RS Industria agrees. “Outsourcing has an absolutely crucial part to play in any well-thought-through maintenance strategy,” he says.

    “You’ve just got to be clear why you’re outsourcing and what your motivation is. And if it’s one of these three reasons – it’s genuinely cheaper, helps with peaks and troughs in demand, or provides a specialist skill we don’t want to have in-house – that’s fantastic, go ahead, outsource it.

    “But don’t ignore the risks. There’s always a temptation, if somebody says we'll give them the whole shooting match and save a few bob, that you’ll get it wrong and lose all your in-house knowledge.”

    More certainly must be done to promote maintenance engineering as an attractive career. Recruitment experts Randstad say the profession offers multiple opportunities with experienced maintenance engineers earning an average of £42,000 a year plus benefits and bonuses.

    IMechE is doing its part by reaching out to the next generation to inspire them into the profession. But, as well as recruiting tomorrow’s engineers, the focus needs to be on developing and upskilling existing employees who will be the engineering leaders of the future.

    Download the report to find out more.



    Maintenance Engineering Report 2023