The latest report from Engineers Ireland finds positive performance and job growth, but a worrying drop in available talent.
As hundreds of events take place nationwide to mark Engineers Week, Engineers Ireland has released its 2019 report on the sector.
In spite of Brexit threats looming over all industries, the engineering sector appears to be riding the storm with widespread job opportunities and an air of positivity, but there’s no escaping the pervading talent shortage.
More jobs, fewer graduates
According to employers surveyed, 77pc found their financial position improved in 2018 and a further 89pc expect improvement in 2019. This positive performance is reflected in jobs market growth, with more than 6,000 job openings expected this year and graduate salaries reaching an average €33,750 (a 21pc increase since 2014).
However, with increasing demand comes a shortening supply, with almost half of employers surveyed expecting the shortage of experienced engineers to worsen in 2019.
Civil and building engineers are most in demand with 59pc of organisations surveyed looking to hire engineers in this discipline. However, a 55pc decrease in civil and building engineering graduates over the last five years has been identified by Engineers Ireland as a particular cause for concern. A 48pc increase in entrants to higher education courses in these areas is a welcome step towards improvement, but this growth since 2012 comes from a low base.
“The current reality is that the number of students moving into third-level engineering and technology sectors needs to be much larger to meet our country’s current and future needs,” said Engineers Ireland director general Caroline Spillane.
For its part, Engineers Ireland is exploring a variety of solutions to overcome engineering skills shortages, including new higher education initiatives, greater promotion of professional engineering apprenticeships, upskilling and reskilling people from other fields, engaging with Irish engineers working abroad, attracting international engineers to Ireland, and better retaining qualified engineers in the profession.
Addressing Brexit uncertainties, particularly with regard to the ability of its more than 25,000 members to work across jurisdictions, Engineers Ireland has reached strategic agreements with peer organisations in the UK.
Engineering needs communication skills
The Engineering 2019 report shows a continuing and growing emphasis in the engineering sector on communication skills, with 77pc of engineering employers viewing these as ‘very important’, and effective communication and teamwork seen as just as (or even more) important than fundamental engineering knowledge.
To ensure they have the skills and expertise to undertake future projects, 66pc of engineering organisations said they have been investing in upskilling and reskilling current employees, while 64pc are collaborating with education institutions.
Fostering early interest
Spillane noted that just 35pc of parents of secondary school children surveyed were confident they could explain what an engineer does. “As a society we need to collectively do more to inform the public about the importance and diversity of the modern engineer,” she said.
This is essentially what the whole week has been about for Engineers Ireland, as Engineers Week events work to foster a lifelong interest in engineering among schoolchildren in Ireland.
“Junior Certificate results have shown that Irish students have a strong appetite for STEM. Now more than ever, we need to retain this interest, particularly amongst females, and convert it into more third-level graduates – and ultimately more engineers entering into industry to fill the huge number of job vacancies that exist in Ireland,” said Spillane.