Young blood needed to put the ‘great’ back into British Engineering; Britain, birthplace of the industrial revolution and many of the inventions that formed the modern world, isn’t attracting enough young people into engineering

Young blood needed to put the ‘great’ back into British Engineering

Britain, birthplace of the industrial revolution and many of the inventions that formed the modern world, isn’t attracting enough young people into engineering

By Alan Tovey, Jobs Editor

6:01AM GMT 08 Nov 2013

For a profession that prides itself on finding innovative and elegant solutions, British engineering seems to be facing an intractable problem of its own. Quite simply, we’re not producing enough engineers. The industry needs 1.48m people with engineering skills over the next eight years according to industry body EngineeringUK. Worryingly, universities, colleges and apprenticeship schemes are producing less than half the required number each year.And the trouble starts young. Not enough school children are taking the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects at GCSE level, effectively shutting the door to the profession at an early age.

And engineering isn’t selling itself well to them – the stereotypical view is of physical work, with an oily rag in one hand and spanner in the other.

Ironic then that the country that gave the world the industrial revolution, giants such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel and John Logie Baird and was the birthplace of many of the great inventions that shaped the modern world seems destined to let this distinguished heritage turn to rust.

“Britain’s pedigree for engineering and innovation is part of its DNA. It is something of which we are rightly proud, yet tragically seem happy to watch fade gradually into history,” says Leo Quinn, chief executive of defence technology company QinetiQ. “Our engineers were world famous. On their shoulders a small island stood tall, ranged far and built many wonders of the modern world.”

To stop the rot, his company is a founder member of the The 5% Club, which pledges to have at least one in 20 of its workforce on apprenticeship, sponsored student or graduate development schemes within five years.

It’s not that the talent isn’t here in the UK, says Martin Lamb, chief executive of FTSE 100-listed valve maker IMI.

“British engineers are among the most creative in the world,” says Mr Lamb, who started his career at IMI as an 18-year-old development engineer. “The British are curious, inquisitive and naturally geared to ask questions, challenging the status quo and find solutions – that comes through in an engineering context.”

He says that the UK has an “outdated” view of what is now involved in a profession that has changed hugely over the past 30 or 40 years and now offers opportunities from the massive, such as Crossrail, to the microscopic, such as developing robotic surgery. Large or small, engineering can have a global impact.

“The world needs engineers now more than at any time in the past 300 or 400 years,” says Mr Lamb. “We recognise the huge issues facing the growing global population and we need really creative solutions to deal with them. Introducing students to the huge amount of value they can have by solving these problems would be genuinely inspiring for them.”

With the Government recognising the need to rebalance the economy away from services, failing to inspire the next generation of engineers could put Britain’s economic future at risk, according to Mr Lamb.

“In other cultures engineers are more revered and yet we have plenty of reason to celebrate great engineering success in the UK but we have some catching up to do,” he says. “Countries like China absolutely recognise that and 2m engineers are graduating there every year; the sector is regarded as a key investment priorities with great status attached to it. They recognise the problems they need to solve and the desperate need for great quality engineers.”

To its credit the industry recognises there is a problem and is trying to tackle it. Events such as Tomorrow’s Engineers draw together industry and government to promote the sector to the young, a new generation of apprentice schemes are starting and work is being done to introduce more engineering to school curriculums.

Philip Greenish, chief executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering is keen to push the profession’s rewards. “It’s very rare to meet an engineer who does not find it a highly rewarding job – both in satisfaction and materially. If you look at going to university and all that it costs you’ve got to be serious about what you study. It’s worth noting that people with STEM degrees have some of the highest starting salaries and career earnings.”

And even if STEM students don’t go into engineering, the skills they acquire make them highly marketable in other jobs – 85pc of graduates in the subject are in work six months after leaving university. “These are very capable people, highly numerate, they have to be bright,” says Mr Greenish. “They start with a problem, think up a solution drawing on lots of inputs, that’s why they are so attractive to City firms.”

The consensus from those working in the industry is that it’s never too early to start promoting engineering, but the key group to target is students selecting their GCSEs.

Alan Foster, director of operations at supercar manufacturer McLaren Automotive, says: “To have lots highly qualified people looking for a university place in engineering, you need to already started at GCSE level.”

But sparking an interest early doesn’t mean students have to be totally focused on engineering. “As well as STEM subjects, I’d recommend history and geography,” says Mr Foster. “They broaden the mind and encourage lateral thinking – great skills for any job.”

Once in the profession, engineering offers that rare thing – a job for life – should you want it, according to Keith Lewis, managing director specialist engineering recruiter Matchtech.

“Unlike other sectors which can be hot for a few years and then you are out on your ear, engineering is a career, not a job. There are fantastic opportunities for training and development which means retention is strong,” he says, adding his company is seeing high demand across disciplines ranging from infrastructure to aerospace that is creating a classic supply and demand problem, and pushing up salaries.

“The problem engineers have in this country is that while they are very good at engineering, they are very poor at shouting about it, meaning the sector competes with areas such as media and sports science for the best graduates.”

This is what makes it even more vital to promote the subject to youngsters.

“A career is for life,” says IMI’s Mr Lamb. “It’s really important to explore and not settle for something that seems the obvious choice. Be curious. If you have not thought about engineering be brave enough to talk to someone who has been there and done it. To know you are an engineer working on something important is a huge thrill and knowing you are making a difference is hugely satisfying.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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