Regardless of the fact that useless graduates do exist (in a proportion not at all undershooting the number of useless engineers), many comments also reflect a general inability of employers to identify skill, quality of education, and, most important of all, talent.
Of course in a country vastly underrating engineering as a profession, best demonstrated by the emergence of photocopier "engineers" who are also considered to be engineers, it is not surprising. By the way, photocopier "engineers" earn 28k on average, look it up, so do not expect top grads to even talk about anything less. You get what you pay for, if you offer 25k for university grad engineers, you can hint yourself about the quality you get for your money. This includes the usual 6 to 12 month "get familiar with our technology" period. What a joke. Do you seriously design your whole business strategy like this? Maybe there is an underlying reason for the recent recession NOT exclusively related to banks per se.
Additionally, the UK engineering arena very rarely shows interest in actual good candidates, preferring to employ the layman - in many cases, simply because the previous generation now in management positions are in fear of their positions being taken from them faster than they could move up the ladder. Pathetic, and directly detrimental to corporate development, too.
I certainly would not employ anyone who did an internship for free. First, I don't want my business carried by pigeons, for trivial reasons, second, maybe they aren't good enough to create a return of investment and hence get paid. That simple. expecting 23k for 44 hours a week (of which, by British standard, about 25 is made up of tea breaks), is not less indicative of the candidate's own perception of commercial value, although I wouldn't believe statistics from a recruitment agency yuppie ever. The cheaper one is willing to work, the faster they get their commission, so they have a clear motivation of generating such arbitrary statistics.
Experience, as in sheer number of years even if merely spent by attending pointless "meetings" babbling empty phrases in a sequence while drinking tea in a layman's job, is also vastly overrated. I have personally been interviewed by a not less "senior" than "principal" control engineer with 20+ something years of "experience" who did not know what a reduced order observer is, rendering their application prone to noise for the past 2 years (!) claiming that "given a particular sensory architecture, there is no "fancy" maths that could provide any better solution than simple differentiation of sensory output", in response to my in-depth demonstration of how I would engage in improving the noise problem with zero extra cost incurred. That should give a hint about how "different" this was, generations ago, when, "back in the day", unviersities were also obviously totally different, espeically in the 80s something when you graduated (if at all), of course.
HNCs and HNDs are not even comparable to a proper academic training in engineering, yet employers advertise positions by a qualification requirement of a HND, with "degree an advantage". A clear indication of a layman job, at a layman employer.
Being "overqualified" is another typical phenomenon, indicative of another shocking employer side naivity thinking that they can get a HND qualified, lawn mower repair level "engineer" to design non-linear control systems for hovercrafts, or model configurations space dynamics of parallel kinematic chain manipulators - for their 25k, again, of course. Surprise, they can't, and if you still try, well, just have a look at your architecture / construction industry.
To the same end, the UK actually misses out on the BEST graduates, who are now leaving to Germany en masse, including myself.
Good UK universities do not focus on quantity over quality, it is merely an excuse for wanting to pay a gardener's salary, insufficient even to live in at least civilised accommodation, for professional (degree qualified) engineers.
Last, but not least, the UK job market is dominated by useless, totally incompetent, and futile recruitment agencies, fed by impotent UK companies unable to recruit on their own. It should not be a surprise to anyone above the age of 5, if not to corporate management perhaps (sic), however, these agencies are NOT interested to deliver you the best candidates, but to get their (excessive, by far) commission as quick as possible. Of course they simply could not deliver them either, being totally incompetent, often to the extent of being illiterate, writing embarrassing, and sometimes amusing things like "principle engineer" or "lapless domain". As an employer, do you seriously expect these undereducated bottom line yuppie thieves to get you a good enough candidate, by simply ticking boxes on a specification sheet they cannot even read properly?