Why UK engineering and manufacturing is not enjoying its most halcyon days.

Having just completed a sizeable contract for a food manufacturing company as a project engineer I am now in between jobs.

As a contractor — or mercenary as my profession is often described — this period of not knowing, and waiting to get the next assignment can be a little unsettling. It’s not the lack of work or finance, but the moping about the house, bordering on the manic, applying for jobs on the internet, lack of motivation and missing the daily interaction of colleagues.

The same colleagues who vary from good to bad, competent to incompetent and proactive to reactive, plus insecure managers and megalomaniacs. You know the type. Managers who don’t manage but simply delegate, then interfere with the project aims or goals, and shy away from responsibility therefore creating a blame culture.

But when all is well at project close-out, these same ‘managers’ turn up for the accolades and praise and receive ‘awards for the non-participants’. Can I really miss it that much? Yes. Because this lean period means I have to deal with the employment agent — the architect of my current morose and complaining air which shrouds me with an aura of menace akin to the cloak of the grim reaper.

The only active role or effect I get from any agent is empty promises. I apply for a job via the internet, receive thanks for my application by return e-mail and get a follow-up phone call from a professional, educated agent — average age about 12. Superlatives flow like ‘got just the contract for you, mate’; ‘you are top of my to-do-list’; ‘you’re exactly what my clients are looking for’. But they never once mention the actual role I have applied for in the first place — if it really exists. Then nothing, absolute zilch.

Are these agents just beefing up their candidate portfolios for when the engineering market is thriving once more, if ever, again? Tony Blair and Gordon Brown might be able to answer that one. Does Tony roll up at his weekend retreat in his US-built Jaguar, don his Egyptian cotton housecoat from Taiwan, check his Swiss-made watch and arm himself with his Mont Blanc fountain pen to write to his ministers and ask why UK engineering and manufacturing is not enjoying its most halcyon days?

So, I continue to deal with the agents hoping there is a foreign investor in the UK who actually makes something that would give me the assignment I crave. If not I could jump out of the window or borrow the reaper’s scythe and end it all. But that’s stupid — the punishment for that is eternal damnation. Mind you, I’ll be so busy shaking hands and laughing with fellow engineers that spoke to the same agent I did that eternity would just fly by. It beats dealing with agents and worrying about IR35 and Gordon — but don’t get me going on that.

Simon Adey

Project Engineer