Establishing a more sustainable culture of professional development for technicians

Blane Judd, EngTech chief executive

As EngTechNow publishes ‘The Experience Gap: the unspoken skills gap’, a new paper identifying emerging solutions to the industry's skills challenge, chief executive Blane Judd explains the issues.

Having been in engineering for some years now, I am accustomed to the cycle of recession followed by a skills gap when growth returns. Indeed I entered the engineering industry on the back of one of these in the seventies.

During every recession engineering loses good people with great experience and we reduce intake of new technicians for want of work to train them on or the money to pay them. Then, when the economy returns to growth, we find we can’t get back the people we lost and we face major competition for new talent that can choose from any industry they like. They may already have discounted engineering because of the news stories of large layoffs.

"Forward thinking employers, clients, and trade unions are working together with EngTechNow to professionalise technician culture."

A downturn as deep as we have seen in recent years makes the problem more acute. In some instances whole families who have been ‘let go’ by engineering need a reason to believe they will fare better if they return. Their children need reassuring too if they are to become the next generation of technicians on whom we all rely. 

Fortunately there are signs we have started to do just that. Our new paper, ‘The Experience Gap: the unspoken skills gap’, identifies a number emerging solutions from within industry.

Take apprenticeships for example. It can be easy to think mainly of competition within one’s own industry, but that is too short-sighted. There are now hundreds of thousands of apprenticeships for young people to choose from, covering every type of work there is. Engineering needs to compete with all of them and it is vital to our survival that we present a viable option for the future. 

The report looks at examples like the Technician Apprenticeship Consortium and at Crossrail, which have both done a lot to open up technician careers to new people. Meanwhile, more and more companies are aligning their apprenticeships with professional registration – verifying for concerned parents and ambitious young people that these are a strong foundation for an impressive career. 

The same can be seen with existing technicians too. Forward thinking employers, clients, and trade unions are working together with EngTechNow to professionalise technician culture. This has implications for efficient delivery. It makes sense for a company like Amey, and for its staff, that a good project manager or team leader has the status to move from highways engineering to rail operations and back again. 

For a major project like Thames Tideway Tunnel, value for money will mean ensuring technical proficiency and professional application across a project spanning many miles and involving thousands of people. That helps to ensure less reworking and fewer delays that otherwise drive up costs. 

"Practical solutions do exist, and if we adopt them widely they will help to create a more sustainable culture of professional development for technicians."

There is a challenge here, however. Without sufficient recognition of experience, there is a tendency towards ‘man-marking’ - by which every piece of work across a project is overseen in detail. This is highly inefficient but can appear necessary unless a company can verify the professionalism of its staff by some other means. 

This is why nine employers, two major infrastructure projects, and two large trade unions, have signed an EngTechNow charter committing to professionally register eligible technicians. This ensures a level of ongoing professional development and means that we can reassure clients that all work is done to the highest standard without effectively watching over every shoulder. 

There are other beneficiaries to this approach too. 

As Chris Sexton at Crossrail told us, the need for status for oversight positions has led many companies in the past to focus such roles on graduates. This creates two separate career ladders – one for graduates and one for technicians. But by enabling experienced technicians to claim their professional status as EngTech, graduates can be freed to move up in their careers more appropriately while technicians also have the upper reaches of the career ladder opened to them too. 

Practical solutions like these do exist, and if we adopt them widely they will help to create a more sustainable culture of professional development for technicians. That is crucial if we are to establish efficient ways of working and help engineering break into the professional arena where it can attract the brightest and the best at all levels.


Details of EngTechNow's new paper, ‘The Experience Gap: the unspoken skills gap’ click here


When speaking about the engineering skills gap, not much is said about cad technicians or given the upcoming BIM MANDATE, 3D Cad modellers. Projects cannot move forward without these however, there seems that there is an assumption by both clients and the supplychain's hr departments and recruitment departments that there will be enough to service the plethora of long term, large scale projects that are starting and will start over the next 5 to ten years. Bentley Microstation/AECOsim 3D technicians that can coordinate services are in particularly short supply. What is being done to address this?
HS2, Crossrail 2, Network Rail projects, TFL projects all Bentley software mandated by these companies. How can these projects be all serviced without a coordinated effort to train more cad modellers with Bentley skills?