When MG Rover fell into administration back in 2005, to most it felt as though the death knell of the British car industry had sounded. With traditional household names such as Land Rover, Jaguar and Mini sold abroad, even to an optimist, the likelihood of the UK ever again holding the position of a major force within automotive manufacturing seemed slim.
But fast forward less than a decade, and with all the facts and figures from 2013 in and analysed, there’s no doubt that the UK’s automotive industry has risen from the ashes – and done so with style. According to The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the UK built over 1.5m vehicles in 2013, while new car sales rose by 10.8 percent, making the car industry responsible for a significant contribution to the economy, especially as around 80% of these vehicles were exported.
‘We’re about the break the record for the number of cars made in the country – something that was set in the 1970s, ‘ said SMMT spokesman Keith Lewis. ‘Although our plants are foreign-owned, this is a testament to the fact that we can persuade international businesses that we are the best place to manufacture their vehicles.’
Such a large expansion in manufacturing has in turn created a significant demand for the engineers needed in the design and manufacture of the vehicle components behind this near record-breaking output.
‘The export led recovery in the UK’s car industry, driven by both the aspirational and quintessentially British nature of the vehicles we produce here – along with the growth in consumer spending amongst the burgeoning middle class in developing economies – has according to government, created a £3bn opportunity for the UK’s automotive supply chain,’ agreed Richard Surridge, department manager for automotive at recruitment company Matchtech. ‘I have personally worked within automotive engineering recruitment for 13 years, and have not previously seen this depth of opportunity presented to the supply chain. OEMs are having to look for additional engineering and manufacturing suppliers, as their traditional supply chains have reached operational capacity, without being able to meet the increasing (volume) demands of the OEMs.’
‘The resurgence in the UK automotive industry means that there is demand for engineers by both the vehicle manufacturers as well as by the supply chain.’ noted Peter Fouquet, president of Bosch UK. ‘In order for the supply chain to produce innovative and high quality components, it is imperative that the supply chain companies have access to the right skills, including qualified engineers.’ However, the industry’s less than successful past has meant that finding a sufficient number of candidates for the roles that the expansion has created may prove difficult.
‘There has been a lot of positivity from the parent companies of manufacturers such as JLR, BMW and Nissan, who have invested more and more within the UK, and this has created a domino effect of growth within their suppliers,’ said Mark Bignall, automotive managing consultant at Jonathan Lee Recruitment.
According to his observations, in an attempt to fill positions, employers are having to adapt their original recruitment requirements. This means that good roles may now open up to those wishing to transfer their skills from another sector. ‘The lack of apprenticeships and the general poor view of engineering careers from 15 to 20 years ago is now showing up as skills shortages of skilled engineers aged between their late 20s and early 40s,’ Bignall explained. ‘However, the automotive industry is becoming more flexible about taking on those with the right skills but with a background in the aerospace industry or general engineering, for instance. They are also looking to the EU, especially with positions in the high tech areas of product development.’
‘There is certainly compelling evidence, from a recruiter’s ‘coal face’ perspective, that opportunities for engineers are limited only by their own geographical and remuneration requirements, rather than their particular work experience,’ added Matchtech’s Surridge. ‘There is a fundamental skill shortage of automotive engineers, and as such opportunities in this sellers’ market are myriad.’ He pointed to a growth in vacancies in a number of categories from engine design, calibration and analysis and composite materials through to electric and hybrid vehicle development, chassis engineering and manufacturing engineering skills as being in particular demand. ‘The automotive industry has always suffered from a certain shortage of engineering personnel, especially within engine development, in which the UK excels,’ Surridge added. ‘However, the recent unprecedented demand has extended this shortage across all aspects of a vehicle’s product development and manufacturing cycle.’
Although a lack of engineers may be causing anxiety amongst those within the manufacturing supply chain, as with all cases of increased demand, for those lucky enough to have the right experience, wages are undoubtedly increasing along with the generosity of relocation packages, as companies work to attract the very best candidates through their doors. ‘The sheer volume of work throughout OEMs and supply chains has also seen a similar impact on the hourly rate contractors can command,’ Surridge added.
With the dark days of the British car industry seeming to be far behind, those engineers with relevant skills look to be faced with a large choice of potential roles, and with the benefit of the best pay and benefits packages to be seen in years. As investment from abroad continues, it also looks as though this golden period is unlikely to come to any sort of abrupt end, as the sector continues to outperform other areas of industry which are moving more slowly out of the recession. Indeed, last year Britain moved ahead of France to become the third-largest vehicle producer in Europe, behind Germany and fast closing in on Spain.
‘I can’t think of any area where we have a surplus of engineers, ‘ said Jonathan Lee Recruitment’s Bignall. ‘The best candidates can choose from a number of opportunities – companies are having to sell their position, rather than the employees selling their skills to employers. The industry is on the crest of a wave and it looks like this growth will continue.’