British employers of engineers fear a shortage of skilled recruits could threaten their business prospects, leading many to call for increased gender equity within the engineering profession to satisfying increasing demand for staff.

A new study from the UK’s Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) indicates that industry remains highly concerned about Britain’s shortage of engineers and its potential impact upon business.

The study found that six out of 10 engineering employers fear that a worsening skills shortage would threaten the viability of their operation by depriving them of much needed staff.

According to the findings of IET’s survey 76 per cent of employers had experienced difficulties recruiting senior engineers with between five to 10 years’ experience, as compared to 48 per cent in 2011.

Employers have also reported increased difficulty in recruiting engineering managers, graduates, technicians and apprentices.

Leading members of industry have long complained of an engineering skills crisis in the UK, with Sir James Dyson, founder of Dyson Ltd, stating earlier this year that he had been unable to fill all the positions at his company’s British head office after tripling the number of engineers needed. 

In addition to increased difficulty recruiting staff, UK employers reported that the quality of new employees was lagging behind expectations. An alarming 44 per cent of them said that engineering, IT and technical recruits failed to meet their expected skill levels, expressing increased dissatisfaction with the literacy and numeracy skills of school leavers.

The shortage of qualified engineers in the UK is becoming increasingly acute, particularly as baby boomers begin to retire from the workforce en masse. According to industry body Engineering UK, Britain will need to train 87,000 engineering graduates per year until 2020 in order to satisfy demand – double the previous rate.

Many feel the most convenient expedient at hand for meeting this demand would be make gender participation in the workforce more equitable, thus tapping into a huge potential pool of skilled engineers.

“Promoting engineering to women is particularly important given how few currently work as engineers,” said Nigel Fine, IET chief executive. “It’s disappointing to see that so many employers are taking no real action to improve diversity.”

The IET study found that only six per cent of the employees of the 400 companies it surveyed were women – a figure which has barely increased since 2008, and that as many 43 per cent of employers had failed to adopt specific measures to raise workplace diversity.

Education minister Nick Gibb said that increasing the participation rate for women in the engineering and technology sectors would be critical for the UK’s future competitiveness.

“If the UK is to compete on a global scale we want more young people leaving school with the ability to make technology work for them,” said Gibb. “One simple way to do that is to use all of the talent at our disposal and encourage more girls to study these subjects.”

According to data from e-skills UK, the UK continues to lag behind its European counterparts in terms of the participation of women in the technology sector. Women comprise only 16 per cent of the UK’s technology workforce, as compared to 23 per cent in Greece, Spain and Finland.