As demand for engineers grows, the talent pool keeps shrinking – especially in hot new markets like embedded software.
With fewer students graduating in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, companies are struggling to fill key roles, develop new products and services, and replace aging workers. This is affecting the growth of the whole industry.
According to Gartner, talent shortages are now the top risk factor for organisations worldwide while a survey by Deloitte and SEMI found that 60% of companies say electrical engineering roles are the hardest to fill, with software and computer science roles like embedded, firmware and hardware engineering coming in second at 35%.
The shift towards automation and new technologies like machine learning calls for an influx of new skills, but there are not enough skilled workers. Declining interest in STEM subjects, coupled with giants like Amazon and Google siphoning off large numbers of those who do graduate in STEM, has left most companies fighting a losing battle for talent.
Industry leaders have been complaining of a talent shortage for decades, not helped by insufficient funding and education, particularly in the US, which has been forced to bring in students from abroad to fill up university courses. However, foreign students are no longer so keen to study in the West, where STEM is declining, when they could be enjoying the STEM boom in countries like China and India.
Besides the lack of STEM students, many companies also suffer from a lack of brand awareness, making it even harder to compete for talent with the overwhelmingly popular giants. Key industries like firmware and embedded software also face a widespread lack of awareness of their importance.
What’s more, increasingly restrictive immigration policies make it harder to supplement the lack of homegrown talent with engineers from abroad – which is becoming more problematic as much of that homegrown talent reaches retirement age.
There are no simple answers to these issues. The industry is working to attract young people, not only by reaching out to universities but also by connecting with schools to get children interested in STEM subjects from an early age. Early exposure via internships, apprenticeships and co-ops is also taking on more importance, as is employer branding. However, only time will tell if these programmes have had any measurable impact.