The tightening labour market post-Covid and the low inflow of recent graduates with an engineering degree might pose a problem for the major transformations our Belgian companies.
Next to young talent, the need for experienced engineers is also increasing.
Overall, engineers are quite loyal to their employer. However, the shortage on the labour market and the high demand for these experienced professionals means they are increasingly sought after. As a result, an experienced engineer barely stays with the same employer for 1.7 years on average, before moving to a new organisation. As they usually do not actively look for a new challenge themselves, they are often triggered by a higher salary and flexible working hours. Engineering professionals realise now they are in high demand on the labour market, which is why the salaries offered to them are often soaring.
Here is an overview of what happened on the job market for several experienced engineering profiles over the last six months.
Engineering (Project) Managers
In the past year and a half, the demand for Engineering Managers has fluctuated enormously. At the beginning of the corona pandemic, we saw a big drop in the number of advertised vacancies, followed by a huge peak at the end of April. Early this year, we noticed another short peak, followed by a fairly stable period. But since mid-May, we have again seen a huge increase in the demand for Engineering Managers, and we are back at the level of April last year. The corona pandemic has caused uncertainty on the labour market, both for employees and employers. Planned projects or innovations that have been temporarily put on hold are now being picked up again, and we can clearly see it in the demand for experienced Engineering Managers and Project Managers, especially in the Antwerp and Ghent region.
Yet Engineering Managers are not easily tempted to change jobs, and this is where a lot of organisations make a mistake. There is hardly any response to vacancies, so hiring managers are forced to call on specialised recruitment agencies. When we actively approach these professionals with an interesting opportunity, we often hit a wall. Only when the job offer is challenging enough and offers flexibility, and an attractive remuneration package, they prepared to step into the recruitment process.
Not only in the construction sector, but also in the food sector, industrial automation and the medical sector we see a continuing demand for Plant Managers, especially in Flanders due to the strong presence of production companies. The industrial sector is constantly renewing itself, which means that today's Plant Manager faces enormous challenges. Globally, barely 11% of Plant Managers are women. Belgium is doing better: here we see that 16% of the Plant Manager positions are filled by a female engineer. That's positive news, but that percentage is still too low and has to go up. We have to break the glass ceiling and I hope that organisations will open up more to female candidates or give female employees the opportunity to develop and grow into this top position internally.
Popular specialists: Welding Engineers
In addition to generalist positions within engineering, we also see a demand for experienced Welding Engineers in particular. The pool of Welding Engineers is relatively small in Belgium and the ageing of these specialists is more than ever noticeable on the labour market.
Organisations that could rely on the loyalty of their experienced Welding Engineers over the past years realise that replacing them when they reach retirement age will not be an easy task. Often, organisations start their search for experienced Welding Engineers themselves, but soon come to realise those available candidates either do not have the desired level of experience, or there is no real fit with the company culture.
Junior to mid-level Welding Engineers stay in their jobs for an average of 2.8 years and then move on to a similar role at the competition or in another sector. Because the number of Welding Engineers in Belgium is so low, we often see a snowball effect: when one Welding Engineer moves to the competition because a position becomes vacant, someone else takes up the position, and the ball starts rolling. Now that the labour market is recovering from the corona pandemic, we are seeing this trend again, and so we expect quite a bit of rotation in the coming months.
Organisations that see their Welding Engineers retiring soon or fear that their employees will take on a new challenge, should start their search for a replacement early. After all, the inflow of junior Welding Engineers on the labour market is decreasing year by year. This scarcity of talent can partly be absorbed by the organisation taking on the cost of training and further specialising employees. Organisations are sometimes sceptical about attracting foreign talent, often because of the language barrier. But this should not be a show stopper. There are numerous intensive language courses that help foreign employees learn the national language in a short period of time. By being prepared to make that investment, organisations significantly increase their talent pool.
Experienced Welding Engineers are generally quite loyal to their employer. To convince them to make a professional switch, it is important to consider what they find most important in a job: flexible working hours to ensure a good work-life balance, challenging work and an attractive remuneration package.
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