Brexit commences the end of free movement across the EU, which has allowed jobs in the engineering sector to be filled for many years. A large proportion of the active workforce is from abroad, and changes due to brexit leaves these workers uncertain about their residency. While some suggest that a skills-based immigration system will ensure that workers can remain, there are still questions. How engineers will be trained is key; in many sectors, the UK offers high quality education to EU students who become a part of the workforce, an education they may not have been able to access in their home countries. But students will not be considered in a skills based quota. The families of workers is another key issue, with the entitlements of workers to bring family with them still not clear.
Some engineering firms are set to ramp up their recruitment processes to attract more home students into the industry. While this is undoubtedly positive for UK students, the predicted success is limited. The UK school system has been widely criticised among engineering firms for deterring students from a career in engineering due to the style of science teaching, leaving many students feeling it is inaccessible for them.
Other firms are exploring the options of applying for sponsorship schemes which will provide work visas for successful job applicants. This would allow workers to remain and new recruits to come from abroad. However, the schemes are costly to businesses and leave workers with little security, as their residency is tied to the employment of one member of the family. If, for example, a couple were to divorce after coming to the UK on the husband’s work visa, the wife would be deported even if her children remained in the UK.
Mechanical, civil and chemical engineering account for over 50% of the jobs on the UK’s Shortage Occupation List, and making the process for finding workers harder will undoubtedly exacerbate this issue.