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UK kicking out engineers to work for competitors says Dyson

Britain must stop kicking out the foreign-born engineers it trains and pay native students to study engineering, according to James Dyson.

Writing in The Financial Times, the prominent engineer and businessman said a lack of suitable engineers to apply for positions at his firm’s R&D centre in Wiltshire was holding back the company – and the country.

He said the solution to this ‘crisis in engineering’, which he claimed meant 61,000 engineering vacancies at British companies would go unfilled this year, was in offering financial incentives to encourage students into the sector and in making it easier for foreign students to stay rather than losing their talents after they graduate.

‘We take their money and we give them our knowledge,’ he wrote. ‘But then we kick them out, dispatching newly trained engineers to foreign shores. Our experts are training the competition.’

He claimed that government advisers estimate 20 per cent of all engineers in strategically important sectors were born abroad, but that employer fees, paperwork and visa restrictions meant that the world’s most promising engineers were not being given a chance to contribute to Britain after studying here.

In response, immigration minister Mark Harper said the four months foreign graduates had to secure a professional job before they had to leave the country was plenty of time for those with in-demand skills, and that employer sponsorship fees were competitive with other countries.

Dyson is planning to expand its Malmesbury research centre and recruit 3,000 new engineers. But the inventor said he had no idea where those engineers would come from and that 120 positions at the company went unfilled last year.

He said that the cost of paying engineering students’ tuition fees would quickly be recouped through greater tax revenue and provide the necessary skills to build Britain’s future power stations, high-speed railways and exportable technologies.

The UK should also increase payments to postgraduate students, he added. ‘Foreign postgraduate students at our universities vastly outnumber their British colleagues. That might change if we paid postgraduate researchers properly for their work.’

Dyson is currently advertising around 60 research and development roles, mostly with unspecified but ‘competitive’ salaries. One job as a thermodynamics research engineer comes with a salary of £28,000 - £38,996.

Readers' comments (36)

  • I am a british engineer and I left UK because the wages and diversity in career options, incentives and opportunities are appaling. I had to pay visa fees etc and go to a foreign country but the industry is so much better here. I get paid more than twice as much as the UK, there are lots of opportunities to work on big projects and the lifestyle is really great. There are lots of engineers from the UK here and I would never go back to the UK as an engineer.

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  • I suppose it would be better and good for him to go and have a look at the data and see how many 2012 graduates are unemployed and living under the poverty line. Truly sick of it as a whole and the anger phase is over.
    Btw his company is the one that rejects qualified engineers immediately and there is a clear evidence available.

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  • The EU graduates in the UK have an EU visa to stay in the UK, yet they leave. This highlights the flaw in Dyson's claim. There are more than enough engineers, in fact it has a higher than average unemployment rate. I recently read this:

    "70% of male engineering and technology graduates are employed in related sectors three years after graduation.

    50% of female engineering and technology graduates are employed in related sectors three years after graduation."

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  • I have to say that my experience agrees with Anonymous. I recently graduated with a Power Electronics PhD and would be suitable for a lot of these roles.

    However during my job search I was offered a role in Germany with a salary far higher than the UK (~£46,000 as opposed to £26,000).

    UK engineering employers need to be far more competitive, otherwise Engineers will simply go elsewhere. It is very easy to emigrate, particularly within the EEA.

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  • Presumably graduates who are not from the EU can't go to the EU afterwards so they might be tempted to stay in the UK. Hence I don't see a flaw in this aspect of Dyson's claim.

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  • Other EU countries have different non-EU immigration policies so why would non-EU graduates not be able to go to the EU? Dyson's point is that other countries make it easier for engineers to enter.

  • I was actually talking about the source of the problem. Which is British engineers doing engineering postgrad course and then staying in Britain after graduation.

    British engineers are not going to stay here when they can easily nip over the channel for a more lucrative career. Or as Dyson suggests himself, Canada has a very welcoming immigration policy and higher salaries (he doesn't mention this part but its true.

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  • I agree with the wage situation. If you look at the wage Dyson is offering and the area where they are based then it's a no brainer to NOT go there.
    If it all goes belly up at Dyson there is also very little for these engineers to do locally so will inevitably have to up sticks and go elsewhere. A similar thing could be said for Lotus who are based outside the major automotive location circle, they also have a turbulent past so it's a risk to go and work there.
    JLR are sucking all the engineers up at the moment and are paying more than what Dyson are offering, and it's cheaper to live in the Midlands compared to Wiltshire.

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  • I am a Scandinavian engineer and have lived and worked here in Britain for the past 15 years and am now considering leaving as the wages are lagging behind the rest of Europe.

    There is huge demand for engineers all over Northern Europe and the wages are better, the status is better.

    If Dyson wants to employ more engineers then just increase the salary.

    If you want world class engineers you have to pay them what is reasonable.

    When salaries are double elsewhere and other industries, especially finance, have much higher wages you will never get the most intelligent youngsters going into Engineering. They are clever and can see this too. Why spend 4/5years and pay £9000 a year and get less then a third of other professions? That is where the real problem lies.

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  • When you discuss this issue with UK engineering HR departments they are remarkably insular "We benchmark our salaries against our UK competitors".

    This does not tie up with their sales aspirations to export globally.

    In the end I moved to Bavaria, although I wish I'd had a choice. Sadly, the amount of student debt I've had to take on to obtain these qualifications and the high house prices in the UK leaves little choice.

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  • The problem is not down to engineering students being poorly paid in the UK, it is the total lack of foresight by engineering firms.

    I have been trying to get a new job in engineering and have been repeatedly turned down because I have not used 3D CAD software in a drawing office environment.

    I cannot get experience of using 3D CAD software until I get a job that allows me to do this, and I cannot get a job because I do not have the necessary experience.

    Until the industry as a whole changes its approach to new talent, it will always struggle to get the staff it needs.

    I have no sympathy for Dyson, or indeed anyone else in engineering who bleats about a lack of engineering graduates.

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