Latest News

New strategy for engineering post-Brexit


Experts’ fears about the effect of Brexit on the engineering industry have been confirmed by new research representing over 450,000 engineers. As a result, a new strategy for the industry has been proposed.

Findings from Engineering a future outside the EU emphasise uncertainty about the status of EU workers in the UK and further risks to the supply of skilled engineers, as well as the status of research and innovation.

Why engineering is affected

According to the report, while a number of industries are threatened by the UK’s exit from the EU, engineering (which accounts for 20 per cent of the UK economy), could be the worst affected due to its unique characteristics:

  • Its workforce is highly mobile (in both industry and academia). Engineering companies tend to recruit from a global talent pool, with UK engineers being in high demand internationally.
  • Engineering is a team-based activity that is inherently collaborative and interdisciplinary. Research shows that diverse teams deliver better results.
  • UK university engineering departments have higher proportions of international students and researchers (including from EU countries) than the average for all subjects.
  • The UK is currently facing an engineering skills crisis; EngineeringUK has found that the UK needs 182,000 new engineers and technicians per year until 2022. The pace of technology development combined with the time it takes to fully train qualified engineers means it is impossible to fill engineering skills gaps and shortages by increasing the UK pipeline (although this must be part of the response to leaving the EU, according to the report).

What the industry thinks

A survey on the impact of Brexit on the UK’s engineering industry was conducted last month, receiving 424 responses across engineering sectors (energy, transport, defence, oil and gas, agriculture and marine). When asked about the importance of the EU to their business, respondents cited working with EU companies (64 per cent), employing EU citizens (62 per cent) and exporting services to the EU (48 per cent). These factors are all at threat as a result of Brexit.

When asked about their biggest concern for their company post-Brexit, 26 per cent cited the availability of workforce and free movement of goods. Others cited uncertainty, replacement funding (including R&D projects support), standards and regulations, and the impact on the economy and sterling. 15 per cent said they had no concerns.

Moreover, 31 per cent identified the benefits of Brexit as greater freedom, a lower exchange rate, fewer regulations and opening trade with the rest of the world. 39 per cent of respondents said they could not identify any benefits, however.

A new strategy for engineering

On the back of all of this research, the report has made a number of recommendations; namely the development of a new industrial strategy that continues to create the conditions for the UK to attract a high level of foreign direct investment (FDI), by developing policies and frameworks designed to lower the cost of doing business with the UK.

Standards and legislation have been recognised as non-tariff barriers that are crucial to strong trade relations, with the UK’s continued leading role in developing European and global standards seen as being particularly important. The report emphasises, for example, that it will be necessary for data protection and cyber security laws to be closely comparable to EU law in order to avoid barriers to trade, and that frameworks need to be put in place that allow the UK to continue to collaborate in the digital single market.

There are means for the government to minimise uncertainty during this process:

  • Communication: Complete clarity of what will happen is not possible but clear, confident and transparent communications will do much to manage the uncertainty and alleviate concerns.
  • Positive and assertive messages to international partners: This will be essential to maintain their confidence in the UK as a collaborator and a destination for talent and investment. Eg. Government should ensure strong representation at key international trade shows, on trade missions and expert delegations.
Send this to a friend