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Engineers warn that Brexit must not limit access to EU skills

21 November, 2016

An alliance of engineering organisations representing more than 450,000 UK engineers, has published a report warning that Brexit must not restrict access to the engineering skills from across Europe.

The report, called Engineering a future outside the EU: securing the best outcome, is based on consultation with engineers from industry, academia and the public sector. It highlights the challenge that Brexit could present to the supply of skilled engineers from the EU who, it says, are essential to maintaining the quality and success of UK engineering companies and universities. In UK universities, 15% of engineering staff come from the EU – proportionally more than across all subjects as a whole.

The alliance, led by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE), hails the government’s renewed focus on industrial strategy as a major opportunity to help the UK compete on the world stage. It calls for the strategy to portray the UK as being forward-looking, open for business, and an active and welcoming partner.

The report suggests that further risks to the supply of skilled engineers in the UK are likely to result in delays to major projects such as HS2 and Hinkley Point C, which will face recruitment difficulties and increasing costs if demand for labour outstrips supply.

It calls on government and the engineering community to work together to take decisive action on the skills crisis, and to develop a “shortage occupation list” for engineering positions that cannot be filled domestically in the short term. It suggests measures such as temporary visas for skilled engineers from EU countries with the specialist skills that the UK lacks. 

Dowling: leaving the EU poses a real challenge

The report also calls on the UK government to extend procedures for intra-company transfers to cover EU citizens, as many companies require their engineers to move freely to support and fulfil contracts.

“Engineering makes an enormous contribution to economic and social progress in the UK, and we have heard from a significant cross-section of the engineering profession that leaving the EU poses a real challenge to this contribution,” says RAE president, Professor Dame Ann Dowling. “For many we have consulted over the last two months, plans to trigger Article 50 raise questions about our ability to train enough skilled engineers to meet the country’s needs, to attract the brightest and best international talent to the UK to address specific skills shortages, and to collaborate with colleagues in non-UK EU countries in a way that accelerates innovation that is of value to wider society.

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