When it comes to demand for engineering talent, not much has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, even though the engineering sector has both evolved and faced massive disruption. That may sound contradictory but hear us out.
The engineering sector was one of the first in Canada to be impacted by the “Great Resignation” compared to other sectors. However it’s also been the one sector that turned the corner sooner than most. The Government of Canada has continued to support and prioritize several infrastructure and construction projects to ignite the country’s economy after a significant slowdown in 2020. New areas such as clean energy and green technology have started to overtake the oil and gas industry, sparking several changes in the kind of professionals that are being recruited in this sector.
According to research by Engineers Canada, it was predicted that from 2018 to 2028, there would be a major increase of engineering jobs supported by an even greater increase of prospective job seekers. However, with the stall in immigration, the exit of women professionals from the talent pool to attend to personal responsibilities, and the early retirement of senior professionals – the sector is currently struggling to find and retain enough talent.
Although a smaller workforce due to the aging Baby Boomer population was anticipated going into the 2020s, COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst fast-tracking retirement for older workers.
In an article published to Engineers Canada in May 2021, recently retired engineers explained their decision-making process for exiting the engineering sector early. “My department was in constant reorganization,” says Heather Hayne who retired after a 28-year engineering career. Meanwhile after a 34-year engineering career Ray Mantha says, “I was just plain tired of commuting.”
You could chalk those quotes up to changes in workplace perceptions due to the pandemic, however Hayne retired in 2018 and Mantha retired in 2012. What this says to us is that these issues have always been there, they just haven’t been addressed or recognized as openly as they are now.
The article provides a little piece of good news for recruiters and clients stating, “engineers may take on new challenges in their retirement, whether that be remaining in the engineering workforce part-time or on a contract basis, or pursuing new opportunities.” This is great for clients who may be looking to fill a short-term gap or get through a major project, but experienced talent – especially engineering – comes at a price. While overall salary certainly plays a part in that price, experienced engineers at the end of their careers are looking for more – flexible hours, generous contracts, additional perks, etc. – with the current talent squeeze in the engineering sector employers need to get creative in order to secure high-quality talent.
The Engineering In Training (EIT)
The writing on the wall for engineers entering retirement age has been present for quite some time, and prior to the pandemic Engineers Canada already knew this. In fact, one of the driving purposes behind National Engineering Month is to show young Canadians how rewarding an engineering career can be.
Engineers Canada’s report on undergraduate student enrolment shows that while there’s been a minor decrease in the number of students enrolled in engineering programs in Canada, the overall number of undergraduate degrees awarded has been increasing steadily over the last five years. This is great news for the engineering sector, especially when there are jobs that need ready-to work candidates.
Engineers Canada conducted a survey from 2013-2017 examining final year engineering undergraduate students’ familiarity with their chosen profession, motivation, future plans and overall experiences. In the most recent survey from 2017, 75% of students were optimistic that they would find employment in their field; only 9% of students believed there were no jobs or it was difficult to find a job, while a further 16% said they felt unprepared due to lack of available work terms or co-ops.
According to several charts within Engineers Canada’s Engineering Labour Market in Canada: Projections to 2025 report – a report published in 2015, before Covid – the median age of engineers in Canada was expected to steadily decrease year-over-year to an average age of 40-42 across the board by 2025. This means the engineers who are currently in their mid-late 30s were expected to be dominating the workforce within a short period of time, if not already. It’s more important than ever to ensure this group of people is receiving the necessary training and development so they are able to take on more senior-level roles within the next decade.
Further to that, since the majority of the engineering population will be so young, providing roles for EITs and a strong career trajectory plan for engineers throughout their career will help keep a strong talent pool and build lasting relationships with companies who take this approach as an employer of choice. Unfortunately, present circumstances paint a slightly different picture.
What’s changed for recruiters?
The most vital soft skills required for engineers are still just as important as they’ve always been regardless of in-person or remote work: communication, time management, negotiation, strategic planning, creativity, teamwork, etc. In fact, according to a recent report by Terminal, “three quarters of engineers say they prefer to work remotely most of the time, and 68% say remote work boosts their productivity.”
According to that same report by Terminal, what engineers want isn’t all that different from other Canadian professionals. “Engineers want practical remote benefits like technology and productivity tools, home office stipends, and flexible work hours to balance work and home on their own terms,” the report states. “Engineers also cite learning and development (L&D) opportunities and mental health subscriptions as important benefits.”
Ultimately, the challenge facing recruiters is that the engineering sector has been struggling to find or retain enough talent. As a result, engineering companies and companies that employ engineers must reach deeper into their pockets, but also demonstrate a heightened sense of commitment to prospective employees. They must communicate who they are as a company – what they value, why they matter, and how they care for their employees and customers.
If you’re in urgent need of an engineer, we can help. With nearly over 1,50,000 engineering candidates in our national database, we can help you find the right engineering professional, project manager, or turnaround specialist right now. For more information on engineering salaries in your market download our 2022 Salary Guide here, and to learn more about the ongoing talent shortage, download The New Talent Squeeze: How to win at retention and attraction in 2021 here.