Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now



Staffing shortages: Is outsourcing the route to innovation?

By Dr Bill Garrett, chief technology officer, BHV

One of the biggest issues facing our industry in the post-pandemic era is a lack of skilled staff. While this could add financial value for those seeking employment, the existential threat created by a lack of a robust skills market can cause a contraction in the industry as companies lack strategies to deal with the gap. 

Globally, business confidence has picked up, with vacancies for senior and skilled tech staff increasing since Covid-19 restrictions around the world have eased, but in reality, the current recruitment problem has been around for a good while. Recent events have obscured the true picture of a worrying trend that isn’t going to become any more manageable any time soon. 

In February last year, UK-based recruitment firm Search published a survey-based report looking at all sectors of professional employment in the UK. At the top of the list facing the greatest skills crisis was engineering and manufacturing with 85 per cent of businesses consulted reporting challenges to their operations due to a lack of skilled staff. This isn’t new information, as early as 2019 the British Chambers of Commerce stated that manufacturing faced the biggest skills shortage in 30 years.

BHV openGear card for streaming services

The roots of this staffing crisis can be traced back a decade when the number of applicants seeking engineering degrees declined while interest in higher earnings and more respected “softer careers” like business management, accounting and software-related professions grew.  A particular concern for broadcast was the discipline that saw the biggest fall, electronics! 

Research by Engineering UK, the umbrella organisation for the industry’s various professional bodies exposes the underlying problem. The annual student intake for electrical and electronics degrees in the UK went from around 7,500 in 2008/9 to under 6,000 a decade later; for non-degree courses it was worse with the number halving to just over a 1,000 in the same period. Sadly, this decline continues and reflects a global trend. Conversely, the global demand for engineering graduates has never been higher – food processing, sustainable energy and electric vehicle production absorbing the majority of fresh candidates. Broadcasting’s customary share of this pool has suffered with very few joining an industry that thrives on technological innovation and is in the midst of migrating to higher levels of automation, IP-based hardware and new workflows in a cloud-centric world.

If you are a manufacturer or service provider faced with the prospect of growing a product portfolio with a nominal or non-existent hardware design team, what are your options? Arguably, you could throw money at the problem by outbidding your competition for key staff, but this is a risky strategy. The alternative is to outsource some, if not all, of your design and innovation requirements. 

Approximately seven years ago, BHV recognised this growing industry need for outsourced innovation and development. Leveraging our extensive experience designing and engineering our own award-winning products and drawing on our deep knowledge of complex broadcast electronics, the company has since expanded to offer the wider industry a multi-phased approach to product development that spans from assessment to a complete turnkey solution. We are now suppliers to a range of well-known brands, either having designed and manufactured their equipment or supplied specialist intellectual property to power their innovation. 

BHV hybrid IP and baseband video

There are many reasons to engage in outsourcing. Perhaps you need a specialisation you don’t have in-house, or you don’t have enough capacity within your development team. The dramatic rise in software solutions have left some companies nearly entirely focussed in that direction, neglecting the need for hardware development to complete their product line-up. In some cases, companies have no engineering resources whatsoever.

This might seem a challenging shift for an industry of broadcast manufacturers whose main stock-in-trade has been making equipment. The big brands know their customers and they know what they want but could lack the resources to build the device in today’s world of staff shortages. For smaller more agile businesses, the opportunity of lowering their risks by commissioning “design and build” capability from the marketplace can greatly reduce their investment exposure. I believe we will see further shifts to outsourcing as greater pressure in the skills marketplace drives manufacturers to re-evaluate their operating models. 

Dr. Bill Garrett is chief technology officer at engineering design and innovation services provider BHV. He has previously been an engineering industry analyst advising banks and financial institutions. Contact Bill at [email protected]. For further information about BHV: