Talking shop

We at The Engineer like to think that a roving brief covering everything from computer chips to aircraft carriers gives us a pretty good grasp of the wider concerns facing those working in the UK engineering sectors.

The familiar, disheartening conerns cover everything from the low status of engineering outside the profession, to a growing skills shortage, and a lack of government support.

But to get to the heart of some of these impressions and turn hearsay, rumour, and anecdote into hard fact, we commissioned leading market researcher YouGov to canvass the opinions of more than 1,300 UK engineers.

While the resulting survey, analysed within this issue, contains few surprises, it is fair to say that we were taken aback by the strength of feeling.

It is perhaps the opinions of our engineering managers, who make up nearly a quarter of our sample, that are most telling. These people have been around a bit, seen the trends, weathered recessions and, dare we say it, developed a healthy scepticism for the latest new initiative. Now, as our results suggest, they are a deeply concerned bunch.

For instance, three quarters thought too few students were choosing to study engineering at university. No surprise there. But shockingly, more than half of the managers believe the graduate engineers joining their companies are poorly equipped for a career in the industry, an astonishing situation that they expect will worsen over the coming decade.

While the private sector seems to be holding its own on training, the finger of blame for much of this is pointed at government and academia. More than half our sample think universities must do more to develop skills in industry.

Government policy and initiatives such as the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) also come in for a bashing. Only a minority of those polled said such initiatives provided the support they need.

But it is not all bad news. The majority of those polled report high levels of job satisfaction, positive long-term job prospects and a desire to continue working in the UK. Add to this the anecdotal evidence that the current climate may be leading to an upsurge of interest in engineering careers — and the picture starts to look brighter. Compared to the likely results of an imaginary financial sector survey, it’s dazzling.

In the meantime, there are perhaps some valuable lessons to be learned from our survey results. The Engineer has long championed dialogue and collaboration between academia and industry, but we clearly need more of it and it needs to be better targeted.

Our findings also suggest that the high number of graduates considered unfit for industry calls for more commercial nous in our academic institutions. The question may send a shiver down the spine of some readers but — should there be more synergy between university business and engineering departments?

As for the government initiatives, MAS claims 90 per cent of its customers are satisfied. Our survey claims only 15 per cent of our sample value their services. Neither set of statistics lie, but organisations such as MAS clearly need to reach a wider audience.

It is to be hoped that the £150m package of measures announced in the government’s latest manufacturing strategy review will enable them to do this.



Jon Excell, deputy editor