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How Will the Engineering Industry Change in 2021?

  • by: Conor McKeon
  • On: 23, Nov 2020
5 min read

Following the devastation wrought by Covid-19 on people, companies and communities across the globe, sectors and industries around the world are expected to rapidly adapt their business strategies. Despite mass redundancies and major upheaval, adaptable organisations are set to benefit from new opportunities and greater connections with their staff and customer bases.

Here are five ways that the Engineering industry will adapt and develop in the year ahead.

5 Ways Engineering Will Adapt Following Covid-19

1. Diversification

The Covid-19 pandemic has proven life-changing for the majority of businesses. Many organisations were forced to change their products and services in order to remain viable, and many in doing so created innovative solutions that supported their customers when they needed them most, and even saved lives.

The coronavirus pandemic inspired the following diversification strategies:

  • Ventilators – When the UK government issued a call for the production of 30,000 life-saving ventilators to help thousands of patients breathe safely, Engineering and Manufacturing companies across Britain responded immediately. Medical device maker Penlon was supported by aircraft manufacturer Airbus, industrial technology and automation provider Siemens, Automotive company Ford and several Formula One motor racing teams. Together the Ventilator Challenge UK consortium increased standard ventilator production by over 100%, delivering the equivalent of six months’ UK ventilator production in just one day.
  • Hand Sanitiser – American cosmetics and beauty manufacturer Coty were amongst the first to respond to the ‘new normal’. Just says after the United States went into lockdown, the US company had already started manufacturing hydro-alcoholic gel to fulfil the high demand for hand sanitizer. Coty produced tens of thousands of units of hand sanitizers per week and continued to diversify further by manufacturing face masks to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Engineering and Manufacturing organisations are perfectly placed to respond to the fast-changing needs of businesses and consumers, with a wealth of expertise, equipment, design and production skills waiting to be adapted. As the pandemic looks set to continue throughout winter 2020 and spring 2021 at the very least, company leaders will continue to branch outside of their core business to provide the hospital equipment, medicines, vaccines and personal care that will undoubtedly be required.

2. Skills Shortages Transformed by Economic Downturn

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent rise in unemployment, British businesses were experiencing alarming skills shortages. Due to the impending retirement of skilled workers combined with low take-up in Apprenticeship placements, industry experts estimated a need to train 1.8 million new workers by 2025 to fulfil labour demands. However, the events of 2020 could see a reversal of fortune for the growth of the technical sectors.

Since March 2020 British employers have cut hundreds of thousands of jobs, the country’s unemployment rate is at its highest in the past three years. The Bank of England has predicted that the number of people out of work will continue to grow into 2021, peaking between April and June next year, and that unemployment could rise as high as 10% of the entire population. Of those who have been made redundant and seen contracts cancelled:

  • One in four jobs lost in total are in the Aviation industry, which included airlines such as British Airways and Rolls Royce Aerospace Defence
  • Almost 10,000 jobs lost were in the Energy sector including Centrica/British Gas
  • Over 8,000 jobs lost were in Manufacturing.

Mass unemployment in these areas has created a new talent pool of skilled workers with a variety of easily transferable skills, knowledge and experience. In 2021, business leaders and hiring managers will begin to tap into pools of potential workers with very similar skill sets to those of their existing workforces. To get their new workforces up to speed, organisations will need to create more collaborative training and development programmes which involve knowledge sharing between colleagues and direct support from managers.

3. Increased Temporary and Contract Local In-Country Recruitment

Whilst many industries thrive on expat and migrant labour – and countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) see over 80% of their workforces driven by employees who are originally from overseas – Covid-19 may mean a temporary restructuring of hiring plans. As nationwide restrictions and travel bans occur at different stages around the world, many businesses will be looking closer to home for practical workers who are needed on-site.

VHR’s team of recruitment consultants are former practicing Engineers and technicians, providing us with in-depth knowledge of our market and invaluable industry connections. When speaking with our candidates over the past few months, skilled technicians tell us that they have become stuck in a country away from their home due to changing lockdown and coronavirus restrictions. Many contractors have lost work or seen their jobs end earlier than planned, and have been unable to return home due to restrictions.

However, our clients are also seeing the same problem: their workforces have been stranded in their home countries, and international hires have not gone ahead as planned due to quarantine or shutdown restrictions. VHR’s new Engineer Locator Form enables our recruitment specialists to match skilled technicians with the various roles our clients are struggling to fill.

Are you an Engineer stuck in a different country due to lockdown restrictions? Fill out our Engineer Locator Form to let us help you find a new job.

4. Sustainability

Covid-19 means sustainability is even more important – food processing, manufacturing, not impacting on communities or environments.

Following the astronomical levels of unemployment created by Covid-19, Governments around the world are gearing up to prioritise the creation of green jobs for existing and future generations. The UK government is set to invest £4billion in creating 250,000 new green jobs. New jobs in Engineering and Manufacturing sectors will include those focused around:

  • Carbon reduction – Working with technology to capture and store carbon created in industrial processes
  • Wind Energy – Offshore wind and sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels
  • Energy Efficiency – Adapting existing systems to make central heating more environmentally friendly across British homes
  • Hydrogen – Advancements in hydrogen power and new nuclear energy initiatives.

5. Collaborative Relationships with Suppliers


As companies across the supply chain diversify and either ramp up production or streamline costs depending on their financial situation, supplier relationships will become more important than ever before.

With sudden travel bans able to cancel major parts and equipment shipments at the last minute, and event production schedules likely to remain difficult to plan, Engineering leaders will increasingly collaborate and communicate with their suppliers. Technology is likely to become a factor in the need for constant communication, rigorous compliance around Covid-19 testing and providing sophisticated solutions to complex new problems.

Collaborative supplier relationships will also include recruitment agencies. Throughout the pandemic, recruiters and hiring managers have adapted to perform video interviews, virtual onboarding and experimental recruitment strategies to attract newly available talent pools. Recruitment consultants will increasingly become core partners of the HR departments they serve, and as a result hiring plans will become more holistic, efficient and beneficial to organisational growth.

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Discover 5 Ways that Technology is Helping the World Fight Covid-19.

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