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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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  • DYSON do not have the patience to train fresh graduates or unemployed engineers .he wanted ready made engineers fit for his specified jobs .There are lot of engineers available.Only thing they are rejecting all applications .we cant study engineering only for making vacuum cleaners .If we apply for a graduate engineering position there are minimum four round interviews .where as a fresh qualified nurse have only one interview with almost same salary .so please open your mind and look at the data,s of engineering graduates in uk or please change your HR Manager.4000 engineers for 30 posts for national grid,6000 engineers applied for 50 post for alstom ,etc

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  • I'm afraid that our company recruitment attitudes hark back to the same era as our rail infrastructure.

    It is no longer the case that you have one or two big companies in each town which can dominate the employment market. People can move around more easily, we're not locked-in to company pensions and we're generally better off.

    Besides, foreign-born engineers have no connection here so they are not likely to stay unless there are some compelling reasons - and there is only so far you can push your native engineers before they leave.

    Market conditions have changed and companies need to change with them.

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  • It's folk like Dyson and his ilk who are the real problem. If he upped the salary then he'd attract the people he needed and encourage more UK people to study engineering in the first place. Or he could set up a training department for graduates as used to be done by big engineering firms. Instead he bleats about the state of British engineering and ignores his own part in it.

    If you pay peanuts you get monkeys! We might not expect a beancounter boss to understand but Dyson should.

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  • After graduating with a PhD i applied for nearly 70 jobs all over the UK and received only 2 responses. Lack of engineers? More like useless HR departments...

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  • Plenty of statistical figures there from Mr Dyson but Vacuum Cleaner design is not as popular in the UK as Automotive Design and other Automotive Engineering disciplines so I think he needs to be thinking about being flexible in his employee expectations instead thinking he can get ready made Engineers off the shelf and thus be prepared to train Engineers the specific skills needed to work for his company. Anyhow, if Dyson manufacturing is not in the UK how is it fully contributing to the GDP of the UK only the wages for the R&D staff perhaps.

    I think he is being short sighted in thinking that foreign born students is the holy grail for his company, the more of this foreign student hiring goes on the less confident youngsters are at pursuing Engineering with the idea that they'll be contributing to their own country.

    What I can't understand in the Engineering employment market is why there is a lack of flexibility in employment where one could get experience as say a Development Engineer and is stuck with that experience in job hunting for the rest of his or her career when all the necessary job experience for other disciplines Manufacturing/Process/Production/Quality is taught on the 3 or 4 year Engineering Degree courses. There are now mutli-skilled maintenance technicians that have been de-rigueur for some years now that were originally two separate trade disciplines.

    Foreign students are only here to satisfy the Universities Capitalist needs and not necessarily to better the need of the UK is my view on this matter.

    There is probably no common sense answer to all of this and what I've said is total buncombe........anyway I think Mr D will work it all out.

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  • "which he claimed meant 61,000 engineering vacancies at British companies would go unfilled this year, "

    If this is anywhere near true, then why are UK engineer graduates only have an 80% employment rate?

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  • Perhaps because some of those vacancies will be for experienced engineers. Or because not all engineers can do all engineering jobs. Or because some people prefer to hold out for a few months for a job they really want to do than to take anything they see advertised.

  • I don't know why there is so much upset about the wages offered in the uk, i keep seeing comments about engineers paid £26 thousand! Well I can only assume people don't know how to look, because true engineers usually offered minimum £45k and contract engineers start at £350 a day for the easiest jobs and head way above £1000 a day for the bigger projects, so, I can only assume these moaners are looking at job adverts for expresso engineers, photocopier engineers and sky engineers!

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  • £26k is a typical graduate starting salary for many engineering disciplines. It also happens to be the median salary for all working people in the UK.

  • I second that. £26k is a starting salary. £45k is much later in the career if you are even able to get the chance to earn that. By this time many of your university chums who decided to apply their skills elsewhere will be earning far more. I think salaries for engineers are starting to move. I have noticed this in the last year or so. Some companies are starting to fight for people. I have seen a few engineers coming into interviews with several offers already and so they can pick what they want. Perhaps this doesn't represent every engineer but it is at least a positive step.

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  • You will find the salary of £45k but they usually want the design engnieer, the CAE engineer, the project manager etc etc for the that price and not an individual specialist.
    Take a look at the JLR careers page, they are offering £35 to £40K for an engineer, then offering around £50 for a manager and £70 for a chief engineer role.
    The reality is that their pay scales have shifted down. Internally an engineer would be on between £35 and £55k, a manager £50 to £80 and a chief engineer any thing from £75k plus.
    no wonder they are not getting many applicants. The best way to get a good permanent wage is to go in as a contractor and then go permanent at the top end the scale.
    If I worked at JLR as an engineer on around £50 to £55 but wanted a move elsewhere as an engineer I would most likely have to take a pay cut and that is not happening.

    I'd also like to know what engineer jobs "start at £350 a day for the easiest jobs and head way above £1000 a day for the bigger projects" And I dont mean project manager roles.

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  • Dyson is not an engineer, he's a good businessman and a stylist who produces overpriced tat (still abroad ?) why is he even mentioned in this magazine?

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  • Because he wants to recruit 3000 engineers. It says so in the article.

  • "120 positions at the company went unfilled last year" - I would love to see their stats on how many applications they got and how many they interviewed.
    I applied a few years back when I just graduated and I got to do a 30 min telephone interview. It was my first ever phone interview and to be fair, It wasn’t my best interview as I was nervous and didn’t really know what to expect. Needless to say, I didn’t get offered a second interview.
    I have applied a couple of times since (I have been working as a design engineer for another company since graduating) but I have never been given the opportunity to go to an interview.
    I find it insulting when he cries about how they are desperate for engineers and just can’t get the staff. I have a 1st class honours MEng degree and would have gave the job 110% if I had just been given the opportunity.

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  • Having been an engineer in civils and construction for most of my working life, I have to agree with Anonymous from Scandinavia. Engineers have very little status. Without engineers you would still be living in caves and walking on rough tracks. Pay them what they are worth and give them the same status as doctors and architects. They may stay here then. This country is rubbish in the way it treats some of its most important and inventive people.

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  • I'm not British, and I don't work in Britain. I work in Malaysia as an expatriate in the Oil and Gas sector. Recently I was contacted by a recruiter who found me through Linked In and offered me positions with salaries between GBP 36,000 and GBP 86,000 in the UK Oil and Gas sector. I had to politely tell him that this meant that the positions were for persons junior to me. And many Brits employed in the oil and gas industry here tend to make more money than I do. I may be in a niche field (safety and risk engineering) but it is clear that general engineering wages in the UK are depressed.

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  • I have been a Design Engineer for 25 plus years. I have an honours degree and a masters, plus management qualifications. I have spent the same amount of time, probably more, and have achieved the equivalent level of qualification as a doctor or a dentist or a lawyer or an accountant. However, I have probably reached the ceiling in terms of what a Design Engineer can earn and if I want to earn what my level of qualifications and experience deserve, I have to stop being a Design Engineer and become a Project Manager, or move into sales or marketing, or move abroad. I love my job, I'm good at my job, it's the job I always wanted to do. But I wouldn't recommend it as a career to anyone who wants a comfortable lifestyle. And therein lies the problem

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  • Dyson really is being hypocritical. This article throws up numerous contradictions. Firstly Dyson bemoans a lack of engineers, but then he is only able to offer a meagre salary. £26k is less than an unskilled labourer on a building site could earn, yet he expects graduates and post graduates to work for such a small amount?? Then he wonder why there are unfilled vacancies?? He knows he can't export his engineering because there are few other places in the developed world which pay engineers so little. Why should foreign born engineers come to the UK? They have no attachment to the UK, and can easily leave and go to the better paid markets. UK engineering education is good (but not as good as elsewhere in Europe), but UK engineering employment is not. Dyson is part of the problem, with such low wages and high expectations of talent he cannot expect to fill these positions in an internationally competitive market. Of course the same goes for the rest of UK engineering. For many companies the only solution is more and more outsourcing to low cost labour markets such as India. The company I work for has tried this for years, but it really only works for the run of the mill work. Dyson - Pay more if you want engineers to work for you (try 100% more the increase until you fill all your posts).

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  • RE John Harrison's post, I totally agree with you. Although I do not have a masters I have been doing a design engnieer role for approx 22 years with a 5 year gap involved with project management.
    If I want more money then I need to become an engineering manager or a project/programme manager and that takes me away from what I enjoy.
    The best option for us is to become a contractor, take the money and accept you never want to climb that corporate ladder. I now understand why many many others do it.

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  • Having made hundreds of millions profit whilst manufacturing vacuum cleaners in the UK, prior to the move abroad, maybe Mr Dyson would like to not complain about the lack of engineers but offer to pay the bigger salaries to attract them to his establishment.
    I'm surprised he still has his R&D here in the uk.
    The first comment I get on a price submission to a customer is "Can't you do it any cheaper?" We engineering establishments don't seem to be allowed to make profits that can pay decent salaries to engineers.
    Fork lift drivers get higher hourly rates than I can pay to well experienced CNC machine operators...........Where does that leave graduates salaries??

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  • It's a matter of supply & demand - if there are not enough engineers (and even less really good engineers) then salaries should rise over the next 2 to 5 years to reflect this. But society still doesn't seem ready to make this step. I work for a well known large UK engineering company and we are busy at present, but it is also known that we pay less than the going rate hoping that engineers will stay due to the 'good' project we can work on. Unfortunately this isn't good enough...

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  • Anonymous of 9 Feb
    I don't know about the UK but there are courses and teaching materials to learn 3D CAD. If that's what's holding you back, don't whine. do something about it.

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  • To anonymous of 10 Feb
    Having a PhD does not make one a good candidate for engineering.
    After 16 years of working I had to move to management, which was boring. Then the company went bust. I then got myself a PhD, but did enough other work in that period so I could hide the PhD when applying for a real job.
    In the end I became a professor - that's a job that requires a PhD indeed.

    It does seem that UK salaries are low. But maybe the UK industrial structure makes engineers less productive. If one can convince an employer that you will bring in several times your salary they will hire you.

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  • They say that the higher you climb up the corporate ladder, the increased salary is justified by the increase in responsibility. And where do these salaries come from? The sale of products. And where do the products come from? The product Design Engineers. I can't think of a more 'responsible' role than that of the person who designs the products that bring in the revenue to pay the inflated salaries of all the overheads. Pay the Design Engineers a salary appropriate to their level of responsibility and maybe you won't struggle to fill the vacancies.

    My apologies. Can you sense my frustration?

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  • To the person with the PhD. It would be worthwhile considering Germany or Switzerland if you are looking for some good opportunities. £80-90k per year. A PhD or other doctorates help you a bit in the UK, they are a huge boost everywhere else.

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  • @ engineer. Thanks for the tip re: Germany and Switzerland. I have been thinking of going to Australia, but there is no OEM there. Perhaps I should try these two countries instead. I have over a decade of experience including project management, plus PhD, plus chartership. Surely this is worth more than £45k??

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  • That is a good amount of experience. Could take your CEng to the next level and get EurIng which is highly respected in Europe. You will easily get more than £45k. I'm in the same boat. Switzerland is high on my list and i'm going to look at Germany in more detail after discussions with friends out there.

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  • Dyson do probably need to pay more, as they certainly need better Engineers - preferably one that can design a vacuum cleaner that can be easily dismantled to allow complete cleaning, to remove the 'stink' that pet hair and dust leaves inside the cyclones.

    This seems to have been overlooked (I have 2 different models) in favour of fancy coloured plastic parts.
    The only cleaner on the market to solve the 'stink' issue was a polish designed Neptune that utilised a water chamber (puchased in 1999 and still perfect)
    Come on Mr.Dyson, design yours to be dismantled in a safe and sensible way at least !

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  • I worked for dyson in malmesbury,
    I have to admit its the worst company I have ever worked for. The pay is great but the conditions there and the attitude of the managers is awful.
    I'd rather be unemployed than work for them again

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