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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)

  • "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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