Skills Intelligence Publication

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) commissioned YouGov to undertake a survey assessing the UK’s digital skills gap, its impact on employers, and potential solutions to the challenge.

The results show that there is a digital skills gap in the technology sector, and it is having a serious impact on business according to engineering employers. Fortunately, these employers believe their workforce is agile and offer solutions to the gaps. The study reports the following main perspectives:

The digital skills landscape

Many engineering firms report having at least some staff that regularly use robotics / automation (47%), artificial intelligence (45%), and virtual reality (32%). However, far fewer firms have a majority of staff using these technologies. For most, ‘digital skills’ is broadly defined. IT / communications generally have a stronger understanding of the range and specifics of digital skills within the engineering profession.

Current workforce needs

Half of engineering employers report issues with skills in the external labour market of technical workers (54%) and their current engineering / technical workforce (47%). A digital skills gap may be holding back the UK economy. Among those employers reporting a digital skills gap in their technical workforce, 49% say it harms productivity, 35% say it restricts growth, 35% say it harms innovation and 29% say it reduces their ability to deliver contracts.

Skills level within engineering employers

Technicians are most likely to be considered an important staff level for organisations (88%) and for employers with skills gaps at this level, nearly half provide additional training to counteract this (48%). Around three in ten of those with skills gaps at the technician level change recruitment plans as a result, for example to recruit more technicians to get the necessary coverage (29%) or recruit at other levels instead (28%).

Technical training

Engineering employers identify technical skills shortages through qualitative feedback from managers (61%) and skills audits (31%). Data shows that 87% of employers arrange or fund some form of training. The most common forms of training are on-the job (70%), inhouse programmes (51%), online learning (51%), and formal qualifications (51%). Findings show that 44% of engineering employers give their employees digital skills training. However, large employers (58%) are more than twice as likely as SMEs (27%) to give their employees digital skills training.

Future of digital skills

Skills in emerging technologies are expected to be more important in the near future than they are now, such as artificial intelligence (36%), extended reality (22%) and quantum engineering / computing (22%). Three-quarters say their engineering / technical staff can apply existing skillsets to new situations, and would be able to adapt to new technologies (74%). In terms of skills gaps in the near future – 31% of employers say that artificial intelligence / machine learning will be important to sector growth. However, 50% of these employers say they don’t have the necessary skills in this area.

Strategies to gain digital skills

Half of engineering employers have a strategy in place for embedding digital skills with their workplace (51%). SMEs are less likely to have a strategy in place for this (41%). For 92% of those with a digital skills strategy, they will need additional skills to deliver it. Employers state that the biggest impact the government could make is to support them as they reskill the existing workforce (58%), offer more funding for apprenticeships (39%), and support schools and colleges to offer better careers advice (33%).