EU exit risks UK engineering

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A leading organisation has warned leaving the EU could put UK engineering at risk, heightening the skills crisis…

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has warned leaving the EU could lead to increased skills shortages and difficulties with research funding for engineering.

The shortage of skilled workers in the construction sector is not a new phenomenon brought about by uncertainty over the future relationship with the EU. In fact, it has been a problem for a while now.

In January, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) warned a shortage of skilled workers could derail government plans for housebuilding. This sentiment was mirrored by housebuilder Barratt just a month later. Even as far back as last summer, the Federation of Master Builders was warning of the looming crisis and how it threatened recovery.

With the government forging ahead with its own targets to deliver a million new homes by 2020, plus a range of infrastructure projects in the pipeline, concerns were raised about the ability of the construction sector to provide enough workers to meet continued demand.

Further threats to the skills shortage could come on the back of the EU referendum. In June the nation will vote on whether to remain in the EU or leave. For the construction sector there has been something of a mixed view to the debate. This month, Scottish builders revealed they were in favour of remaining in the EU, but on the whole UK housebuilders remain split.

However, there is little doubt the referendum offers uncertainty. The upcoming vote saw output in the sector dip during February, blamed on the vote. Despite this the demand for skilled workers remains strong.

But the issue of the skills shortage is a storm cloud over the sector.  Last week, the steel industry warned skills shortages could be seen in the wake of the crisis affecting the sector. Now, the IET is warning an exit from the EU could put the engineering industry under threat as well.

Over the next decade the sector will need to find an estimated 1.82 million new engineers. However, if the UK leaves the EU this will make it difficult to recruit engineers from other member states. The IET said while the UK could introduce fast track visa processes for engineers it would be difficult to know how this would work alongside tighter border controls expected in the event of a Brexit.

Furthermore, the IET predicts the sector will suffer in relation to research, with a significant amount of funding coming from the EU—more than it contributes back, in fact. Concerns were also raised about how leaving would impact collaboration, and if the sector would lose access to EU research environments.

The IET also warned Brexit could prevent the UK from influencing global engineering standards. The UK would not be able to influence European standards either and could lag behind new and emerging markets.

IET President Naomi Climer said: “UK engineering is deeply integrated with global markets and companies, and the period of uncertainty about the terms on which access to these would be granted to UK companies after a decision to leave the EU is a threat to the sector.

“Given the considerable challenges already facing UK engineering and technology, it is difficult to justify the unknown and unquantifiable transition risks if we were to leave the EU. While it is possible that these effects could be mitigated by other trading and collaboration arrangements after an exit from the EU, there are no guarantees.

“For this reason, the interests of engineering and technology may be best served by the UK remaining within the EU, and we are calling for urgent discussion on the impact of an exit decision on a sector that is so vital to our country’s economy.”

The skills shortage remains an issue, but it is undoubtedly concerning that it could be worsened further in the event of Brexit.

The full statement from the IET is available here: www.theiet.org/eu2016.

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