Undiscovered talent groups could help plug the skills gap in engineering

5 min read | Paul Gibbens | Article | Recruiting Skills shortages

ex-forces personnel

Over 80% of engineering organisations don’t have access to the skills they need, according to our survey in partnership with The Engineer. This substantial shortage of soft and technical skills in the industry may limit business growth and it’s a pressing issue that can’t be ignored. Undiscovered talent, however, could provide the answer. But what exactly is ‘undiscovered talent’?


What is undiscovered talent? And how can we uncover it?

Undiscovered talent, also known as ‘untapped’ or ‘hidden’ talent, refers to people who may struggle to access work opportunities due to negative stereotypes or other barriers during the job application process. Examples of undiscovered talent groups include mature workers, ex-forces personnel, neurodivergent professionals, workers with disabilities, caregivers, and those with a criminal record.

A commonly held notion is that these individuals actively avoid partaking in the labour market, but that’s not necessarily the case at all. Often individuals from these groups struggle to access jobs due to external factors, such as unconscious bias within hiring processes. For example, the presence of ageism in some workplaces means that mature workers can struggle to secure employment. Equally, hiring teams may focus on applicants’ credentials and experience, which can alienate groups of individuals, like ex-offenders, who may lack direct work experience but could bring great value and sought-after skills to an engineering company in the future.

In a dynamic industry like engineering, organisations need to stay ahead of the curve. Rather than looking to hire individuals with existing skillsets, instead you should secure people with the skills and desire to adapt to future technological developments, be it digital twins, robotics, or artificial intelligence (AI).


How can undiscovered talent benefit engineering organisations?

Undiscovered talent groups have a wealth of life experiences, behaviours, and transferable skills that are desperately needed within engineering. For example, opening your hiring processes up to embrace neurodivergent talent can improve creativity and diversity of thought, two essential components for innovation within engineering.

Take ex-forces personnel as another example: problem-solving is one of the five most in-demand skills among engineering organisations, according to our Salary & Recruiting Trends 2023 guide, and who could be better to fill this skills gap than individuals who are experienced in solving complex problems in high-risk and pressured environments? With only 12% of engineering organisations currently working with ex-forces personnel programmes (Hays survey in partnership with The Engineer), there is a sizeable opportunity for other engineering businesses to tap into this group of skilled and experienced individuals.

Not only is hiring individuals from undiscovered talent groups the right thing to do to tackle employment inequity within engineering but it also improves business outcomes. Individuals from undiscovered talent groups outperform other workers on attitude, work ethic, productivity, quality of work, engagement, and innovation, according to research by Harvard Business School and Accenture – by welcoming this talent into your organisation you can support your long-term talent pipeline.


How can engineering firms onboard these networks of undiscovered talent?

Diversify your recruitment strategy. Our survey shows that only 19% of engineering organisations have reviewed their recruitment strategies to encourage a more diverse range of applications, meaning that many are missing out on the valuable skills and perspectives that undiscovered talent groups can bring to a business.

The first step to reaching and attracting talent from these groups is understanding the typical challenges that can crop up during hiring processes – and amending your practices accordingly. In our Helping for your tomorrow report, we aim to help organisations diversify their workforce and address the ever-growing skills gap by providing specialist insights into work-related issues experienced by individuals living with a disability, mature-aged workers, and other workers with underutilised talents.


About this author

Paul Gibbens, National Specialism Director, Engineering, Hays

Paul began his recruitment career in 2005 before joining Hays in November 2019. Paul is an experienced customer-focused director with extensive knowledge of the nuclear, MOD & defence, oil & gas, rail, power generation, petrochemical, chemical, renewable energy, and manufacturing industries.

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