Boeing’s UK chief extols the value of STEM graduates

Sir Michael Arthur, president of Boeing UK and Ireland, talks about the changes taking place in advanced manufacturing and how STEM students remain vital in ensuring Britain’s position as a leading global technology innovator

The life-long learner in me prizes and envies students. What an exciting opportunity ahead of you.

I speak to you as the head of the UK operation of [Boeing]. We are a significant employer of engineers, mathematicians and technicians that make up some 180,000 Boeing employees globally in 65 countries. 

Boeing is growing rapidly in the UK. We recruit hundreds of people at all job levels each year. We have a great need for engineers, IT technicians and project managers (to name a few) across the country. 

Sir Michael Arthur, President of Boeing UK and Ireland, tells delegates at 2015 STEMtech why STEM students are vital to manufacturing
Sir Michael Arthur, President of Boeing UK and Ireland, tells delegates at 2015 STEMtech why STEM students are vital to manufacturing

But STEM graduates are valuable to our business not just within engineering roles. A project coordinator with a science background, a communicator with a degree in economics, bring to their careers intellectual curiosity, creativity, innovative thinking and problem solving in a way that some other subject areas do not provide.

However, we sometimes find it difficult to get the people with the desired knowledge and skill set. 

This is not just a Boeing problem.  This isn’t even an aerospace problem.  This is a nationwide problem across the whole of the UK’s advanced manufacturing sector – automobile, nuclear, defence and aviation.

Put bluntly, there are not enough young men and women choosing to study science and maths at school and university.  Indeed the number of women entering engineering careers is a major concern. Our country is missing out on many talented women not even considering it as a career.

Let me [now] make…specific points relating to UK manufacturing.

Firstly, the UK has historically been a manufacturing powerhouse. We still are. Did you know that the UK is the second-largest aerospace manufacturer in the world after the United States? And both main political parties are committed to strengthening the aerospace sector in particular.

Secondly, this is a global marketplace.  Our competition is not from within Europe any more, it is much further afield – China, Japan, India, Brazil. China and Brazil are already making airplanes. Sir James Dyson, the inventor of the eponymous vacuum cleaner, said recently that a lack of UK engineers was the “biggest barrier” to growth at his company. He cannot fill the vacancies he has at UK sites. The UK produces around 12,000 engineering graduates a year. This is only 20 per cent of the number of engineers needed to fill the job vacancies in this country.

For Boeing to continue being the best, we need the best people working for us and our suppliers. That includes people with STEM backgrounds to mix with the visionary and innovative humanities and arts graduates that the UK also educates. What I like about the mindset of STEM trained people is their solutions-oriented approach. That easily leads on to a “can-do” culture. That’s precisely what entrepreneurialism is all about, too.

Sir Michael Arthur was speaking at 2015 STEMtech, delivering a keynote on the current state of STEM uptake in the UK and the role that industry can play in promoting STEM subjects. Click here for more information about the event.