There are fears of an acute shortage in the technology sector. This survey shows that the problem is not so much the intake of staff as the fact that large numbers of technically trained people opt for jobs outside technology as soon as they leave school or university.

The size of the ‘shortage’ is not easy to measure. The oft-quoted figure of 155,000 is based on a perfunctory interpretation. There is a structural shortfall in the intake from the education system compared with expected job openings. But it is not only school-leavers that fill these vacancies; many are filled by people coming from other jobs or who were unemployed. The labour market also has other adaptation mechanisms to overcome shortages: higher wages, recruiting employees from abroad, labour-saving technologies or reorganizing the shop floor. There are also major differences in terms of level of education: there seems to be a particular scarcity of people with lower and senior vocational technical qualifications.

There is no single cause of the shortage of technicians. The finger is often pointed at declining output from the education system, but this is only half the truth. The proportion of technical students (and qualified leavers) has indeed gone down: this is due mainly to the larger proportion of women in the workforce, who are traditionally less likely to opt for technical subjects. In absolute terms the pattern is less dramatic, as the number of people with technical qualifications has not gone down; indeed, at senior secondary vocational (MBO) and university level it has gone up. There seems to be a major leak, however, in the passage from education to the labour market: only half of qualified technicians are working in technical jobs, even fewer of those with higher levels of education.

There does not appear to be any major exodus of technicians. Both in the technical sector and outside it about 10% of employees a year switch employers, some of them involuntarily. But there is an important difference between ‘staff in the technical sector’ and ‘technical staff’. Mobility is much higher among people in the technical sector working in non-technical jobs, whereas the ‘real’ technicians, with technical jobs, are much more rooted. The contention that it is difficult to hold on to staff in the technical sector, then, only applies to support staff, particularly in economic and administrative posts.

On average, 86% of employees in the technical sector are still working for the same employer a year later – more than in the non-technical sectors. Most people who change jobs are retained in the technical sector; only 2.5% of employees left voluntarily for an employer outside that sector. The sector does however have to contend with a somewhat higher outflow of over-55s to non-activity, and a lower intake of young people, re-entrants and unemployed.

The main reason for exchanging the technical sector for another sector is lack of flexibility in working hours, combined with a desire to work fewer hours. Those who left the sector were relatively dissatisfied with the scope for bringing their working hours into line with their wishes in their old jobs, and they often work fewer hours in their new jobs. For young people career prospects are another important reason for leaving. Employers in the technical sector overrate the importance of pay as a reason for leaving it.